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Statesmen, politicians of the past knew the importance of free speech

Winston Churchill, best known for his wartime leadership as prime minister of England during the perilous days of Nazi Socialism during World War II, was a statesman who knew the importance of maintaining free speech in a democratic society.

The Nobel Prize-winning writer and historian once noted that everyone is in favor of free speech.

“Hardly a day passes without its being extolled,” he said, “but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.”

March 5 of this year marked the 75th anniversary of Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Missouri, which libertarians and conservatives consider one of the most famous addresses of the 20th century. Although Churchill was no longer the U.K.’s prime minister in 1946, he still enjoyed worldwide prestige as a global leader.

In that speech, Churchill warned against the dangers posed by the Soviet Union and the words defined the oppression, fear and confrontation of the Cold War era. It was a plea to Americans to understand the harsh reality of a Stalinist regime imposing totalitarian rule in the countries under communist control.

Churchill’s speech infuriated Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator, who called Churchill a “warmonger” and banned its publication in the Soviet Union.

Churchill had a very close friendship with Harry Truman, America’s 33rd president whose post-war “Fair Deal” program included proposals for expanded public housing, increased aid to education, a higher minimum wage, federal protection for civil rights, and national health insurance.

Truman issued this warning about free speech:

“When even one American - who has done nothing wrong - is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth - then all Americans are in peril.”

Given today’s divisive climate regarding America’s future course on social, domestic and economic issues, the warnings of Churchill and Truman are prophetic.

Two current senators not afraid to stand up against the leftist agenda propagated by the Biden administration are Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. During a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, they lambasted Attorney General Merrick Garland’s announcement that the FBI will partner with local law enforcement to respond to harassment and violence against school board officials and teachers across the country.

In his memo announcing the effort, Garland stated: “In recent months, there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools.” Those engaging in the violence are often angry about mask mandates in schools and the supposed teaching of what they call “critical race theory.”

During his grilling of Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco at the Senate hearing, Sen. Hawley said the government overreach in using the FBI to intervene in school board meetings is unprecedented in history.

“Is parents waiting sometimes for hours to speak at a local school board meeting to express concerns about critical race theory or the masking of their students - particularly young children - in and of itself, is that harassment and intimidation?” Hawley asked.

When Hawley posed the question if Monaco was aware of any time in American history when the FBI was getting involved in school board meetings, the deputy official answered “that is not going on.”

Convinced that the memo was about blocking parents from expressing opinions, Hawley said that if the justice department’s memo isn’t a deliberate attempt to chill parents from showing up at school board meetings, for their elected school board meetings, he doesn’t know what is.

During the hearing, Sen. Cotton also noted that Garland’s memo came days after the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Biden asking the administration to look into using the PATRIOT Act against domestic terrorism as well as other measures to combat what it said were “threats or actual acts of violence against our school districts.”

“Is it domestic extremism for a parent to advocate for their child’s best interests?” Cotton asked.

The Biden administration/justice department/FBI collaboration was applauded by Chip Slaven, National School Boards Association interim Executive Director and CEO who called Garland’s memo “a strong message to individuals with violent intent who are focused on causing chaos, disrupting our public schools, and driving wedges between school boards and the parents, students, and communities they serve.”

We began our column with a prophetic quote by Winston Churchill and we’ll end with another by Adlai E. Stevenson, an American statesman who served in numerous positions in the federal government during the 1930s and 1940s and who, like President Truman, was a Democrat.

“The first principle of a free society is an untrammeled flow of words in an open forum.”

America needs that kind of unwavering resolve and strength of character from its elected leaders in order to survive.

By Jim Zbick | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.