Beware of the ‘safe space’ movement

Longtime readers know I’m against the low-speed school zones that surround local campuses.

Instead of promoting safety, they counterintuitively breed kids who mistakenly believe cars will always go slow and stop for them. Consequently, they confidently stride into traffic, sure in the knowledge that the laws of physics will yield to the traffic laws.

But a scan of any newspaper page or TV newscast shows the folly of that idea ends on the blood-soaked asphalt of Las Vegas’ auto-versus-pedestrian killing fields. Kids would be much better off being told the truth about life from the start: Look both ways, and cross only when it’s safe.

So it’s probably no surprise that coddled kids grow up to be coddled young adults, who more and more insist on intellectual school zones on their college campuses. Instead of speeding cars, the adversary is “hate speech,” ill-defined as any idea that causes anyone to be uncomfortable, hurt or angry.

Much like school zones, the “safe places” cropping up on campuses represent an attempt to twist the laws of nature in a decidedly unnatural way, creating a world where contrary ideas are never heard, where nobody has to deal with anything they might find offensive, where “trigger warnings” precede lectures and where some ideas are just too outrageous to be heard at all.

And much like school zones, acquiescence to this kind of thinking breeds adults ill-equipped to deal with life after education, where offensive ideas and people abound. There are no safe spaces in the real world, in the workplace or in life. Quite the opposite, actually.

Sadly, liberals should be the people most opposed to the squelching of free speech in the academy in the name of inclusion and tolerance, for no better reason than this: free speech is the tool that created tolerance and social change. Speeches, marches, sit-ins, demonstrations and protests gave us suffrage, civil rights, voting rights and, now, marriage equality. And entrenched establishment interests consistently sought to squelch those ideas. Sometimes they used the law, but ultimately those anti-freedom efforts ended the way all fascism does: with fire hoses, billy clubs and dogs.

So to find liberals not only silent in the face of safe spaces, but actually advocating for them is heartbreaking. Liberals were once the forces agitating for change, relying on freedom of speech and freedom of thought to do it. Now that liberalism is ascendant, they have become the oppressors, the very people the previous generation would have sought to overthrow.

And make no mistake: The “safe space” movement is not simply an effort to help people get along with each other, to lessen the historical pain of discrimination or expiate the original American sin of slavery. It’s a naked, obvious attempt to control not just what people say, but what they think and what they believe.

Don’t believe me? Consider then the ultimate incarnation of safe spaces: the inevitable result of unrestrained intellectual fascism found in radical Islam. It’s a sin to insult the prophet, even for those outside the religion for whom Muhammad is nothing more than a historical figure. And the penalty isn’t a trip to the dean’s office or the student judicial council, but death.

For these radical fundamentalists, the safe zone is called a caliphate, and a trigger warning takes on a real and deadly meaning. This is the inevitable endpoint of fascism, one that must be confronted and resisted by everyone who believes in western-style democracy. Liberals must return to these ramparts, and sooner rather than later. There’s more at stake than we know.

— Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and co-host of the show “PoliticsNOW” airing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays on 8NewsNow.
Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or

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