Being invited to The White House is a singular honor. You ascend the stairs to the State floor for a tuneful arrival. That’s because, as part of protocol, “The President’s Own”, otherwise known as the Marine Orchestra, is often there to greet you with beautiful music.
Members of our Armed Forces officially greet you, and when the large mahogany sliding doors open to the East Room, you are escorted to a row of chairs. The famed Gilbert Stuart portraits of George and Martha Washington capture your attention immediately, flanked by portraits of Theodore Roosevelt on the right and William McKinley on the left.
The event in the East Room on Thursday was unlike any I have attended. The overwhelming majority of the guests were 21 years of age or younger. The excitement was palpable 30 minutes before the President arrived. The iPhones were as ubiquitous as the great portraits and chandeliers that adorn that majestic room. I think it possible that every conceivable photo was taken in that half hour.
The students came from all 50 states. All are undergraduates at American colleges and universities: the Ivies, the large public research institutions, small liberal arts campuses, the gamut.
Of a sudden, the buzz in the room died to the level of crickets, and “Hail to the Chief” wafted from the foyer. Into the great room came the leader of the free world, the iPhones duly aloft to capture his every step and handshake.
He warmly welcomed the guests; said there was a major problem facing the country on college and university campuses, namely a routine and noxiously predictable censorship of conservative students, many of them men and women of faith; and he declared that an Executive Order he was about to sign would direct his Cabinet agencies to review all federal funding flowing to colleges and universities that deign to conflate, reduce, and inhibit free speech and assembly.
The President asked three of the students on the riser standing behind him to speak. Their stories were poignant and compelling:
Ellen Wittman attends Miami University of Ohio. She is the president of that college’s Students for Life chapter. Ellen put out little wooden crosses to remember the innocent preborn whose lives had been snuffed out by abortion. She was allegedly told by school administrators that in order to put out the crosses, she would need to put up so-called ‘trigger warning’ signs for fear that she might offend other students with her pro-life views.
Kaitlyn Muller of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln stood at a table for a conservative student group and was allegedly harassed by a graduate student lecturer and called a ‘neo-fascist.’
Polly Olsen of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College passed out Valentine’s Day greeting cards with sayings on them such as “Jesus loves you.” She was allegedly told she had to stop and move to a ‘free speech zone’ at the school so as not to offend anyone.
The crackdown on students who are imbued with a traditional worldview continues apace even as those college and universities — private and public — continue to consume and absorb giant amounts of taxpayer funding – ‘billions and billions’ in the oft-repeated phrase of the President.
The Trump/Pence Administration, in issuing the Executive Order, is keen that the present censorship stop and has developed a matrix and a catalyst for such a collegiate censorship review.
It is a bold and refreshing decision.
In 2018, Young America’s Foundation, on whose board I am honored to serve, won lawsuits against the University of California, Berkley and Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Both the suits were major First Amendment victories. There are other lawsuits now pending against the University of Florida and the University of Minnesota.
Championing free speech is a winning issue all around. Americans of goodwill on both sides of the proverbial public policy isle desire a wide swath for robust campus debate over a host of ideas.
The Founders envisioned and encouraged such debate for the healthy functioning of our matchless constitutional republic. The philosopher Richard Weaver once wrote that “Ideas have consequences.” Indeed they do.
It is why the father of the United States Constitution James Madison famously and cogently wrote: “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.”
President Trump’s Executive Order furthers that most important of all Madisonian first principles.