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December 13 2019

Dr. Everett Piper: Free Speech Under Attack

featuring Beverly Hallberg

On this episode of “She Thinks,” Dr. Everett Piper joins the show to explain the state of free speech in America, including censorship in academia and the dangers of our cancel culture.

Dr. Piper is the Author of the national best-seller, Not a Daycare: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth. He served as president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University for 17 years and presently serves as a contributing columnist for The Washington Times. His commentary on religion, education, leadership and politics is featured in local and national media outlets coast to coast. His viral op-ed, This Is Not a Day Care, it’s a University, which became his second book, was featured by NBC Today as one of its top ten news stories of 2015.

Dr. Piper can also add “film star” to his very impressive resume as he’s part of a new documentary called No Safe Spaces. The film is a joint venture between comedian Adam Corolla and radio talk show host Dennis Prager in which they travel the country to explore the state of free speech in America. It’s still playing in select theaters, so check it out!

Beverly H.:
And welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you're allowed to think for yourself. I'm your host, Beverly Hallberg. And on this episode, we explore the state of free speech in America, including censorship that exists in academia and the dangers of our current cancel culture. I'm very excited about today's guest, who is an expert in the field, Dr. Everett Piper joins us. Dr. Piper is the author of the national bestseller, Not a Daycare: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth. He served as president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University for 17 years, and presently serves as a contributing columnist for The Washington Times.

Beverly H.:
His commentary on religion, education, leadership and politics is featured in local and national media outlets coast to coast. His viral op-ed, This is Not a Daycare, It's a University, which became his second book, was featured by NBC Today as one of its top 10 news stories of 2015. And now he can add another term to his very impressive resume, and that term is film star because he's part of a new documentary called No Safe Spaces, which was the joint venture of comedian, Adam Corolla and radio talk show host, Dennis Prager. They travel the country to explore the state of free speech in America. And by the way, it is still playing in theaters, so do go out and see it. But Dr. Piper, thank you so much for joining us today.

Everett Piper:
Beverly, I'm delighted to join the show. Thank you for having me on.

Beverly H.:
Did you ever think you would be part of something that is airing in theaters across the country? Did you expect film star to be one of your descriptors in your resume?

Everett Piper:
Well, film star is a bit generous. Thank you. As I said to you earlier off mic, if you blink, you might miss my role. But to answer your question. Did I think I would be in the national discussion? No. In fact, when I wrote my Not a Daycare piece some four years ago, some people that don't like what I say, the progressive left, if you will, said that I was manipulating the media just for viral exposure. Well frankly, if I was that good, if I could get that kind of viral exposure, then I would be a very wealthy man. So no, I did not expect it.

Beverly H.:
Well, before we get into the documentary, which I do have a few questions about that, I want to start with that op-ed, which really started your public position and coming out in the public and speaking about free speech on college campus, and how it's being eroded or has eroded. So you did write that op-ed, This is Not a Day Care, It's a University. First of all, explain to us what you really touched on in that op-ed. And what was the reception to that?

Everett Piper:
The brief description of what led to that op-ed is I had served as president of Oklahoma Wesleyan for a decade and a half at that point. And Oklahoma Wesleyan is a bold, conservative, Christian liberal arts institution. We still have required chapel twice a week, for example, on our campus. Well, in 2015, Thanksgiving week, I wasn't in chapel on a given day. I was off working somewhere, and I received a phone call afterwards from the speaker who happened to be the vice president for student affairs at Oklahoma Wesleyan. He said, "Hey, I want to give you a heads up. We had one of our students come forward after my sermon today, after my homily. He was offended. He poked his finger in my chest and said, 'You offended me, and you singled me out and singled my peers out.' I wanted to give you a heads up and let you know that one of our students played the victimization card."

Everett Piper:
And I said, "Well, what in the world was your speech on, your sermon on? What was your homily topic?" And he said, "You won't believe this, First Corinthians 13." Now for those who don't know, First Corinthians 13 is the love is patient, love is kind passage of the Bible. You've heard it read at 1000 weddings. It's the least offensive passage of all of scripture, and I had one of my kids claiming he was offended by it. I was incredulous. I wrote an op-ed in the newspaper, the local Bartlesville Examiner Enterprise, that week. I told the story. And I said, "I've got advice for this young man. If you want me to coddle you rather than confront you, if you want me to make you feel comfortable rather than to challenge your character," and I went on for 800 words. And I concluded by saying, "My land, this is a university, it's not a daycare. I expect you to grow up."

Everett Piper:
Well, that went viral. And within two weeks, three and a half million people had clicked on that story. And Drudge and [inaudible 00:04:42], and Limbaugh and Beck and ABC and NBC and Good Morning America and The Washington Times, Washington Post, and even newspapers in Great Britain and even in China and Asia were carrying the story of the college president who called out his students.

Beverly H.:
And when this took place, of course, this is 2015, so roughly around four years ago that this took place, we have seen the devolution of free speech on college campuses, also in academia. But it seems like you were surprised that it took place on your college campus. How did people respond to you as the president of the university, taking not just a stance, but actually putting your voice to it, writing an op-ed. It went viral. Did it present any problems for you at the university for you to use your voice?

Everett Piper:
Well, it's interesting. My staff did statistical analysis of the comments associated with those three and a half million views. As you can imagine, there were thousands of comments when you get that many clicks. 97% of the comments were positive, and 3% were negative. But here's the interesting thing in answer to your question. Who do you think was the 3%? It was the church. It was my peers. It was the Evangelical community saying, "Shame on you. Shame on you, you hurt the boy's feelings."

Beverly H.:
Why? Hurt his feelings. Is purely, I guess you would say, wasn't in Christian love. Would that be the premise?

Everett Piper:
That was, I suppose, the premise. The irony is, this kid was offended by a sermon on Christian love. And it was a challenge for him to be loving and calling him out and saying, "I'm not going to coddle you if you feel guilty for not showing enough love." The solution is concession, not coddling. The solution is confrontation, not making you feel comfortable in your sin. A good sermon is supposed to make you feel a little guilty. That's the point. So by saying that, I had my own Christian community saying, "Shame on you." That was the 3% of the negative.

Everett Piper:
The interesting on the positive side, the poster child of the 97% of the positive was the atheist, the agnostic, the Fulbright scholar from the University of Central Florida, that sent me a note saying, "I don't agree with your politics. I don't agree with your religion. And I'm not going to hesitate in telling you so. But on this issue, thank you. Kudos to you. It needed to be said. Carry on."

Beverly H.:
And that brings up even the point of this documentary that we talked about to start out with, No Safe Spaces. This is not a conservative leaning documentary. This is a joint documentary. People on the right and the left, you have people who work in politics, people who are comedians, people in Hollywood, all came together on one thing they could agree on. And that is being able to use our voices is so important. I think often, conservatives think it's only conservatives that care about free speech. But liberals care about free speech as well. Correct?

Everett Piper:
Absolutely. In fact, my first book was titled Why I'm a Liberal and Other Conservative Ideas, because I'm arguing for classical liberty, classical liberalism. The Liberal Arts academy was established 1000 years ago to educate a free man, a free woman, a free culture, a free church, a free government, a free people. It was an education in liberation. That's the nature and the contextual definition of liberty and classical liberalism. And as a conservative, a guy who believes in conserving time tested truths, I'm more classically liberal, if you will, than my left of center counterparts. And the fascinating thing about No Safe Spaces is you've got very progressive liberal people, like Bill Maher, for example, of Van Jones. These two guys don't agree with me on anything except this, that we should be free and that we should have liberty to speak our minds.

Beverly H.:
Let's get into this idea of being offended, and whether or not being offended is something that's inherently bad. So as you mentioned, the student that was upset, felt he was offended, he or she was offended. This is what we hear on college campuses and universities across the country, that they don't think they should be offended. First of all, where does this come from? Of course, a term we hear used about them are, they're snowflakes, they can't handle it. But where does this idea come from that one doesn't have the right to be offended?

Everett Piper:
Well, let's go back to Richard Weaver in 1948. His seminal work that was titled Ideas Have Consequences. What was his point? Ideas have consequences. Education matters. Abraham Lincoln said, "What is taught today in the school room will be practiced tomorrow in the government." Hitler himself said, "Let me control the textbooks, and I will control the state." Ideas have consequences. And Weaver wrote that book in 1948, as I said. Now why is the date important? He was looking backwards just a handful of years to what? The Holocaust and World War II. And he was saying to his people, to his culture, to the world, "We should've seen this coming. Garbage in, garbage out." We've been teaching terrible ideas for decades, and the chickens are coming home to roost. We're bearing the consequences of bad education. Bad education, bad outcome, bad culture. So where did this all come from? I would argue it's my industry, the ivory tower, it's education's fault. We created this monster and it's turning around to bite us.

Beverly H.:
Something I hear from individuals who disagree with me on this idea of free speech, and I'm going to play devil's advocate with you. I'm sure this a question you've received before. You are standing up for the speech of people, even if you disagree with their ideas. So I get this question. Well, how can you be for free speech when somebody is racist? So are you saying it's okay to say racist things to people, okay to say racist, homophobic things on a college campus? What do you say to somebody who asks you that question?

Everett Piper:
Well, first of all, you have to define your words. Words mean something. Definition matters. And when we start labeling everything that we disagree with, homophobic, or racist, or hateful, just because we disagree with the ideas of the person that's proposing, or the proponent of those ideas, now we have flipped the definition on its head. For example, if I disagree with somebody when it comes to climate change or global warming, and the solution to anthropologic global climate change, which I don't dispute is taking place. But I might have a different opinion or different view on how to solve that problem. Does that make me a science denier? Well, I would be labeled that by some. And the way, and what happens as a result of doing that is it shuts down the debate, rather than allowing truth to win.

Everett Piper:
So if you don't like, or if somebody doesn't like my views on sexual morality, the way to solve the problem, the way to come to a solution, the way to find truth and let truth win is to let it be the referee on the game, rather than power and rather than politics. Don't throw ad hominem attacks and label people. Don't shoot the messenger, attend to the message. Don't label people hateful just because you don't like their view on morality or on a very different scientific disputes of our day.

Beverly H.:
And when we do shut down the conversation, which of course has taken place on college campuses, you have people, speakers, who just not just are shouted at and shut down vocally, but also just aren't allowed on campuses as a whole. When you don't have young people who are engaging in debate, when there is not debate because it's only viewed that one perspective is right, what does that do to their ability to be able to navigate life? College and university is supposed to challenge them and prepare them for the real world. Do you think a lot of young people graduating just don't know how to handle people who disagree with them?

Everett Piper:
Oh, there's no question. In fact, I would argue that we've moved from academic freedom to ideological fascism. I'll say that one more time. We used to be a place of academic freedom. The ivory tower was a place of freedom of speech. Berkeley fancied itself as the birthplace of the free speech movement. But yet, Berkeley today protests Ben Shapiro, a conservative Jew, and makes him verboten on their campus because they don't like what he has to say. That is not free speech. That's ideological fascism. A fasces was a Roman bundle of sticks that was bound together so tightly that it couldn't be broken. It was the power of commonality, the power of compliance, the power of being of like mind, of like community. We will crush you if you're not one of us.

Everett Piper:
It's from that we get the word fascism. And that's what we have on the campus today, in the academic community. Rather than a place of free speech, it's a place of ideological fascism, where you must think like us, you must talk like us, you must walk like us, you must look like us. And if you don't, we will crush you. We will expel you. You are verboten.

Beverly H.:
And part of the crushing that we see today with just where technology is and social media is, is cancel culture, where if somebody doesn't like what somebody else says, they want to boycott them, publicly shame them. It's been very fascinating to see this in Hollywood, whether it's Kevin Hart and some of his past comments, or Dave Chappelle, who has been an ardent defender of free speech, and speaks against cancel culture all the time. So we're seeing in many ways, people turning on their own and using technology, sometimes we see this in horrific means, where they even get the story wrong. They don't even have the right facts, but people just jump on the bandwagon. With technology being a way for people to silence and to publicly shame, are we in a new realm of what free speech and the destruction of it can lead to?

Everett Piper:
Well, it's actually rather frightening. It's overwhelming, if you will, because we can use a viral moment, if you can create viral opposition to somebody you don't like, their voice can be completely removed from the public square. And again, there are ideas out there that are deplorable ideas. In a free society, in a truly classical liberal community, a community that believes in liberty and liberation, a community that thrives on open expression and debate, the way to resolve differences is to trust the truth, not trust politics and power. A vacuum is always filled. And when you take truth out of the equation, something is going to fill that vacuum. You cannot have ideological nihilism. Sooner or later, there has to be glue that holds culture together. And that glue, that vacuum, if the glue is taken away from culture, then the vacuum is created, and something is going to be sucked into that vacuum to solve the problem.

Everett Piper:
And history tells us time and time again that, that is power. It's the rule of gang. David Horowitz and his intellectual autobiography talks about the rule of the gang, and that when truth, the objective reality, those self evident truths that are endowed to us by our creator, our seminal documents define a constitutional republic on that basis, when those truths are expunged from culture, the rule of the gang prevails. And that's a frightening place to be because the gang will squash dissent.

Beverly H.:
Do you find that in any ways we are seeing the pendulum swing back, meaning that it's those who are against free speech have gone too far, have overplayed their hand, and people are speaking out? I even think of a recent example would be with the former president, President Bush, who was at a game with Ellen DeGeneres, and people hated that she seemed friendly with him, even Michelle Obama on the Today Show had an interview with George Bush's daughter and talked about her relationship with George Bush, saying, "We care about humanity. We care about similar things. We just disagree on policy." And even when it comes to political rhetoric, people just seem so divided these days. Do you think that people are now finding that they don't like where we are with our censorship culture and our culture of shutting people down vocally, that we will see it come back?

Everett Piper:
I do. I'm an optimist. As a Christian, I believe I know the end of the story. So I'm optimistic in terms of the final outcome. Truth will win. Christ himself told us, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." So truth is a liberating force in culture. And the more we speak the truth, the more freedom we will enjoy in the end. So I'm optimistic. And here are a couple of positive things that I see playing themselves out. For example, let's take women's rights and classical feminism? Who in their right mind would've suggested five, 10, 15 years ago that you could claim to be a feminist, but yet deny that the female is a biological fact, and rather, a fantasy and a fabrication?

Everett Piper:
Who would've suggested that you could be pro woman, but deny women are real, that they are nothing but a social construct? This is not classical feminism. This is not being pro women. You can be pro woman and deny a woman that she's real. You can't be a feminist and deny the feminine. So what you see right now is people recognizing the pendulum has swung far to the left, and women are losing as the result of that. Feminism is lost right now if females cannot even enjoy the privacy of their own bathroom. That is not pro woman.

Beverly H.:
Yeah. Well, I even know at IWF, of course, Independent Women's Forum, we often talk about, yeah, we are feminists, but not the term you would know of today. We are often told that we aren't true feminists because of our perspectives on certain things, which goes against what being a feminist is, which you were talking about the play on words earlier, and we see that all the time. I'm wondering if we have some listeners to this podcast who are wondering. Let's say they have children who are about to enter college, coming on that age where they will enter a college or university. What do you say to parents out there who are afraid of sending their children to a place that may say they have no voice, or a place that may indoctrinate them?

Everett Piper:
You should be very careful right now. I was a college president for 17 years. My entire career has been in the ivory tower. I love the academy. It changed my life for good. However, today you have snowflake indoctrination camps more than you have communities of free and open exchange. Today you have places that are honoring and perpetuating propaganda, rather than pursuing truths. If you're going to spend $30,000, $40,000, $50,000, then you should make sure you know what you're getting. Do not send your kid to an institution that tells you openly that they're going to tear down your values and diminish them in the mind and the soul and the heart of your son and daughter. Why would you want to do that?

Everett Piper:
You spend 18 years of your life training up your child in the way he should go. That's Biblical language. I'm a Christian. Forgive me for using that, but that's the way I believe. 18 years training up my child in the way he should go. Why would I want to dump him off at a campus that in the first 18 minutes is telling me they're going to tear his heart, mind and soul apart and diminish the values that I've tried to instill in him? Don't pay for that. You can solve this problem by voting with your pocketbook, whether it be a secular institution, or one that is religious, Christian or otherwise. You should check into what they teach. Ask simple questions.

Everett Piper:
Here's a basic question to ask. What is your view of truth? Shut up and listen to their answer. If they tell you truth is a construct rather than an objective fact, if truth is something you will build and create in your experience within the academy, rather than something you'll pursue and embrace as you learn more of it, don't go to the institution that claims it's a construct. Only pay for money that teaches you that truth is an objective fact. If I may, and I'm 30 seconds on this or less, I don't give degrees and opinions. I don't pat you on the back and say, "Here's your diploma in opinions." That would be absurd.

Everett Piper:
I actually expect you to learn something about nursing, about biology, about physiology, about chemistry, about psychology, about accounting. And if all you got was an opinion as a result of going to my institution, you wasted your money. Opinions are dangerous. They always lead to bondage and slavery. [inaudible 00:21:38] had opinions that didn't end well for millions of people. Again, Christ told us, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." Going to school should be about learning what's true, not getting an opinion.

Beverly H.:
And then finally, final question for you, for those who want to get involved, want to be defenders of free speech, they don't know exactly where to turn. What can people do in order to uphold the very important aspect of free speech, something that you do in your daily job now? But for those of us who have other day jobs, what can we do?

Everett Piper:
Well, first of all, watch this movie. It's very important to watch this movie and recognize that what's going on, on the college campus is going to play out in your culture. So I think the first thing you should do within the context of talking about education and what's taking place in the educational community, is pay attention to the college, pay attention to the high school, pay attention to the elementary school. Recognize that the ideas that are being taught in those schools will be practiced in your culture, and therefore, you should take part. Get involved in the school board, speak your mind. Ask people to have a liberal, robust exchange of ideas. And ask them to engage openly in conversation and debate with the goal of doing what's best for children within the context of truth. Who can disagree with that? That's the winning strategy for all of us, whether you be liberal, progressive, or conservative.

Beverly H.:
Well, I'm sure a few years ago you never saw yourself doing what you're doing today. So thank you for all you do, and being willing to take a new trajectory in your career after being president of the university. And thank you so much for joining us today, and all you do for defending this freedom that we currently still have, which is the freedom of speech. So thank you so much, Dr. Piper.

Everett Piper:
Honored to be on your show. Blessings.

Beverly H.:
And thank you all for joining us. I wanted to let you know before you go, of a great podcast you should subscribe to in addition to She Thinks. It's called Problematic Women, and it's hosted by Kelsey Bolar and Lauren Evans, where they both sort through the news to bring stories and interviews that are of particular interest to conservative leaning or problematic women, that is women whose views and opinions are often excluded or mocked by those on the so-called feminist left. Every Thursday, hear them talk about everything from pop culture to policy and politics by searching for Problematic Women wherever you get your podcasts. Last, if you enjoyed this episode of She Thinks, do leave us a rating or a review on iTunes. It really does help. And we'd love it if you shared this episode. And let your friends know where they can find more She Thinks episodes. From all of us here at Independent Women's Forum, thanks for listening.


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Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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