“Justice is the handmaiden of truth, and when truth dies, justice is buried with it.” —Ravi Zacharias
When journalist Abigail Shrier published a scholarly book examining the sudden explosion among young women of a formerly rare condition known as gender dysphoria, she knew her research would meet pushback. In fact, she welcomed it, because she believes that rigorous discussion is an essential part of the search for truth. What she did not expect was that, rather than address the merits of her argument, her opponents would seek to get her book pulled from shelves.
But that is exactly what happened.
A customer who disagrees with Shrier complained to Target — one of the stores carrying her book — and instead of upholding freedom of speech and encouraging the customer to write his or her own response to Shrier’s argument, Target buckled, apologized, and yanked the book off its shelves.
There’s a name for that: censorship. And it is happening more and more in our country. Every time someone’s work or reputation is destroyed by so-called “cancel culture,” that is an example of censorship. Every time a celebrity is shouted down for sharing a less-than-trendy opinion, that is censorship. And every time a professor, scientist, journalist, or researcher faces pressure to suppress or distort their research to fit a certain narrative, that is censorship.
Gender ideologists who argue that gender is fluid and indefinable — like those who sought to punish Shrier — are particularly quick to cancel those who disagree with them. But Shrier is not the only professional whose work has been censored by adherents of gender ideology.
Dr. Nicholas Meriwether is a respected professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio. He works hard to create an atmosphere of true academic freedom in his classroom, one where all ideas are welcome and get the rigorous, civil discussion and debate they deserve.
Many of his students loved this atmosphere. One wrote to Dr. Meriwether:
You and I saw eye-to-eye on very little and that made those arguments all the more valuable to me. If you had only made a half-hearted attempt at a counterpoint or (far worse) neglected to even mention an opposing position in order to spare my feelings, you would have been fundamentally undermining my education. I thank you for showing me enough respect to bring your “A-Game” to every in-class debate.
Unfortunately, not everyone valued Dr. Meriwether’s thoughtful, balanced approach. One student, a male who identified as a woman, demanded to be addressed by Dr. Meriwether as a woman. When Dr. Meriwether did not immediately agree to this demand, the student became aggressive, circling the professor, shouting expletives in his face, and threatening to get him fired. The student then complained to the university.
Even though Dr. Meriwether offered a compromise that would have respected everybody (he agreed to call the student only by name, and refrain from using any pronouns to refer to the student), the school punished him. School administrators claimed that Dr. Meriwether “created a hostile environment,” and that he discriminated against the student, not for anything he said or did, but simply for declining to use female pronouns to refer to the male student. They issued a letter of reprimand threatening “further corrective actions” if he did not acquiesce to all student demands about pronouns.
In other words, the university told a well-respected professor that unless he endorsed its gender ideology in his classroom (contrary to his belief that sex is biological and binary), he would face “corrective action.”
Other professors face even harsher repercussions. For nearly 15 years, Dr. Allan Josephson served as the chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Louisville. His careful research and hard work made the program nationally renowned. But when this psychiatrist and researcher, speaking from 35 years of experience, made a well-researched, well-founded statement at a Heritage Foundation panel on the proper treatment of childhood gender dysphoria, his whole career went up in smoke.
Dr. Josephson said that, rather than rushing children into irreversible and damaging medical procedures like hormone blockers and “sex-change surgeries,” doctors should work to understand the underlying psychological issues that often accompany gender dysphoria. This statement would have been noncontroversial just a few years before and is backed by reliable research; many researchers have pointed out that between 80 and 95 percent of children with gender dysphoria eventually come to accept their biological sex. But that didn’t stop the University of Louisville from demoting Dr. Josephson to the level of junior faculty member and later refusing to renew his contract.
This kind of censorship hurts everyone, from the scientists who seek knowledge through research, to the journalists who report on that research, to parents with children suffering from gender dysphoria. Professionals must be able to pursue truth to help people suffering from gender dysphoria, but the dangerous culture of censorship prevents this.
The problem is widespread and widely recognized. In an article in Clinical Psychiatry News, two psychiatrists write about the threat that gender ideology-based censorship poses to the whole practice of psychiatry. They criticize Dr. Josephson’s censors, saying, “If psychiatry chooses to produce or dismiss psychiatric diagnoses based on the inherent political inconvenience of said diagnoses, rather than their scientific and medical basis, the entire field will rightly be called into question.”
Fortunately, not all attempts to censor scientifically based opinions about gender dysphoria are successful. After Target yanked Shrier’s book, they received enough complaints that just one day later they returned the book to shelves. And Drs. Meriwether and Josephson are fighting the censorship of their universities. With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, these professors are standing up for their right—and everybody else’s right—to hold differing opinions, to research and test those opinions, and to share them with others.
Censorship is a loss for everybody: scientists, psychiatrists, philosophers, medical doctors, and researchers. Parents and children. Teachers and administrators. Society as a whole loses when censors are able to silence certain opinions, because this censorship keeps us from having robust discussions about vital issues. It keeps us from being able to make wise, informed decisions about our bodies and our minds. And, worst, it keeps us from participating in the crucial human quest for truth.
Tyson Langhofer is senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (@Alliance Defends) and the director of its Center for Academic Freedom.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.