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The Need for Free Speech

February 3, 2017 | By Samantha Ardoin (SF16)

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey speaks at the Santa Fe campus.
Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey speaks at the Santa Fe campus.

The 2017 Dean’s Lecture Series at St. John’s College in Santa Fe kicked off on January 27 with a lecture by the 81st Attorney General of the United States, Judge Michael B. Mukasey.

The event, which filled the Great Hall, came less than a year after a spring 2016 lecture by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Mukasey, who was appointed by the George W. Bush administration and served from 2007 to 2009, delivered a wide-ranging lecture that often focused on free speech. He argued passionately against forces of political correctness and the “concrete pressures” that these forces can exert on speech.

Concerned that America has become a nation whose people live in narratives rather than facts, Mukasey argued against trends in which “personal taste and preference have started to impinge upon how people view reality.”

Mukasey’s lecture also touched on human rights, judicial activism and the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, which he was careful to define as a political ideology and distinct from the religion of Islam. He closed his lecture by encouraging attendees to uphold high standards of free speech as well as the U.S. Constitution.

“Hold fast,” he implored.

In the lively question-and-answer session that followed, attendees pressed Mukasey on a number of issues, including the need for criminal justice reform, anxieties about the current presidency and threats from the Supreme Court decision commonly known as Citizens United. The Citizens United decision restricted government from limiting the rights of corporations, labor unions and associations to make unlimited, independent political expenditures.

Despite a number of differing opinions from the audience, the discourse remained civil and Mukasey held fast to his beliefs while also retaining a sense of humor. When a student began his question with, “I’m a freshman,” Mukasey laughed and said: “Me too.”

The event was broadcast live on the college’s Facebook and Instagram accounts—a first for the Santa Fe campus.