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'Fear should not cause us to cede our individual rights to those in power. We saw where it led in Germany.'

The events of this past week have unleashed a storm of chaos, fear and uncertainty throughout the nation. Many on the left have called for restricting the rights of all conservatives in order to protect our government and restore peace. Everyone throughout the nation, left or right, should raise their voices in protest of such policies.

Once we lose the right to free speech, it's only a matter of time before we also lose other rights and without freedom of speech, we'll have no way of protesting.

The events at the Capitol have been compared to Kristallnacht. As an American who grew up in Germany, I disagree with this claim. Storming the Capitol was closer to the Reichstagsbrand, when the seat of the German government, was set ablaze and a Dutch communist was tried and executed as the alleged arsonist. The Reichstagsbrand, not Kristallnacht, led to part of the German populace being labeled as less than human and led to individual rights being revoked.

The Reichstagsbrand, like the storming of the Capitol building, was an event that scared people. Fear should not cause us to cede our individual rights to those in power. We saw where it led in Germany.

Shortly after the Reichstagsbrand, the Reichstag (German Parliament) passed the Reichstagsbrandverordnung — legislation to "protect citizen and country" — which restricted personal freedom, free speech (including freedom of the press and the right to peaceably assemble), and many other aspects of personal privacy and freedom.

How different is that from what many in our press and government are calling for now?

At the moment, the calls for censorship are being justified on the grounds that some opinions espoused by conservatives are dangerous to democracy. But who decides what is "dangerous" to the nation?

Once opinions can be censored, "dangerous" can quickly include any opinion against those in power. At that point, no one can protest a tyrannical leader.

At first, the Germans thought censoring dangerous speech would protect them. If we are to have learned anything from Nazi Germany, it should not be that restricting freedom of speech will help things. Instead, we should see what happened when individual rights were restricted after an event that was deemed dangerous to German democracy. Once people were restricted in what they were allowed to say, think, and do, it was easier to begin the horrors of the Holocaust.

If we don't speak up now, if we don't protest now, we risk a similar fate. If we don't protect our freedom of speech now, we may lose that chance forever. No matter what your political beliefs are, no matter how much you disagree with what someone may be saying, no matter how vile you think their opinions are, you should want them to have the right and ability to speak those opinions.

The poem by Martin Niemöller points out the dangers of staying silent when the rights of others are restricted:

First they came for the Jews

and I did not speak out

because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists

and I did not speak out

because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists

and I did not speak out

because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left

to speak out for me.

Freedom of speech is the most vital and fundamental right in a free society. In order to preserve our republic, we must fight to preserve free speech for all, not just for those we agree with. If we don't, there's no telling where this might end.

If we do not now speak up for the freedom of speech for those with whom we disagree, we may soon find our voices silenced as well. It's now or never. This may be the most important debate of our lives.

Caroline Jensen is a Bethany resident and sophomore at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.


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