NEWS

AG Schmitt Delivers UMKC Law Commencement Speech, Focuses on Free Speech

Jun 14, 2019, 10:39 AM by AG Schmitt
Kansas City, Mo. (May 18, 2019) – Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt delivered the University of Missouri, Kansas City Law School commencement keynote speech this afternoon. Speaking to the group of graduates, Schmitt focused mainly on the history of the first amendment, its application in society, and how important it is to preserve it, especially on college campuses.

Kansas City, Mo. – Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt delivered the University of Missouri, Kansas City Law School commencement keynote speech this afternoon. Speaking to the group of graduates, Schmitt focused mainly on the history of the first amendment, its application in society, and how important it is to preserve it, especially on college campuses. 

Attorney General Schmitt started off the speech focusing on the roots of the first amendment, stating, “If you think about it, the First Amendment protects fundamental human expression. We are all born with dignity, and we all have purpose. Our ability to pursue happiness is tied to our ability to fight for what we believe in. To make a difference. The First Amendment protects those noble efforts. as the Revolutionary War approached, colonists began standing up for free speech. Colonial grand juries began refusing British requests to issue indictments for criticizing the government.  Colonial juries acquitted individuals accused of criticizing the government.  We tossed tea to protest taxes. We printed publications denouncing the king. Our founders signed the Declaration of Independence to proclaim to the world that America was free.”

Schmitt then mentioned oppression of free speech around the world, noting that Russia has a long history of murdering journalists and violently oppressing freedom of speech. Schmitt also brought up China’s extreme censorship on the internet, Venezuela’s murdering of dissenters, and Iran’s efforts to track and censor its citizens.

Schmitt stated, “Yes, free speech is under siege around the world. People are killed, tortured, jailed, fined, isolated, or ruined for daring to criticize their government or for standing up for the right to speak out. In America, we believe disputes can be solved, either in the courtroom or through our politics. Not through violence. But, make no mistake about it, we aren’t just talking about ‘the usual suspects’. The attack on free speech is underway in America as well. While we may not be killing, torturing, or jailing, the attack is serious.”

Schmitt noted the overarching trend of suppression of free speech on college campuses in recent years, saying, “Some in our society today seek to suppress and punish speech they disagree with by calling it ‘hate speech.’ Ideological speakers on campus have been disinvited, shouted down, attacked, and met with riots. Campuses have literally burned. Speakers may say offensive things, and they may say stupid things. But the First Amendment does not allow us to suppress the speech because we find it offensive. And, in some cases, when people don’t hear what they want to hear, they turn to violence. Violence is not the answer to protecting free speech. More speech, more dialogue is.”

Schmitt gave several examples of the suppression of free speech, including Texas State’s recent move to ban a conservative grassroots group from campus, and the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against University of California San Diego when they moved to punish the student newspaper for publishing a satirical article skewering “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces.”

Schmitt finished the speech by addressing the graduates, urging them to protect the first amendment and continuing to build social capital through community engagement, stating, “We need you to wade into the collective citizenry and be a leader and an advocate for the American idea. And I do not necessarily mean necessarily public service, I mean in your workplaces, on the boards you’ll serve on, in your families, in your communities. Some folks will highlight that our time seems increasingly divisive, and in some ways in Washington, D.C., it is. But strong communities aren’t built by faceless folks from far-away places – they’re built by real people living in them.”

The full transcript of the speech can be found here: http://ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/press-releases/2019/umkclawschool2019commencementfinal.pdf?sfvrsn=2, and the video of the speech can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf1KINDVtQU