JENKINS: George Orwell, thought crimes, and the First Amendment

Rob Jenkins

One of the more hilarious outcomes of the last election is that some leftist professors have made George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” required reading — as if Donald Trump were somehow the fulfillment of Orwell’s dystopian prophecies.

Really? After eight years of the most Orwellian presidential administration in history, NOW we should read “Nineteen Eighty-Four”?

Let’s see. Under Barack Obama, the NSA was spying, Big Brother-like, on its own citizens — with the president’s full knowledge. The IRS was unleashed against conservative political groups and individuals. Common words, like “marriage,” “gender” and “insurance” completely changed meaning.

It doesn’t get any more Orwellian than that.

Another totalitarian concept that gained favor during Obama’s presidency was that of “hate crimes,” which is really just another term for what Orwell called “thought crimes.”

When you prosecute someone for an alleged hate crime, you’re actually attempting to penalize them, not for what they did, but for what they were thinking at the time. That’s in direct opposition to the First Amendment, which reads as follows:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Most of the time, when people cite this passage, they’re talking about our right to free speech, which is clearly of vital importance. But notice what else the amendment guarantees us: freedom of religion, which is essentially the right to believe — that is, to think — what we want.

In other words, the First Amendment is ultimately about freedom of thought, without which free speech is pointless. If you’re not even allowed to think certain things, you definitely won’t be allowed to say them.

The reverse is also true: Without freedom of speech, true freedom of thought cannot exist. If you’re supposedly allowed to believe what you want, but you’re not allowed to say what you believe, then you’re not really allowed to believe it.

It’s hardly surprising that progressives now attack free speech. They’ve long been opposed to free thought — hence the “hate speech” and “hate crime” legislation they’ve been trying to ram down our throats for decades. They want to punish people not merely for doing something wrong but for thinking unapproved thoughts in the process.

In some cases, they even want to punish people purely for what they think — about the issue of climate change, for example — regardless of whether they’ve actually done anything illegal. Clearly, they’re taking a page right out of Orwell, fully embracing the notion of thought crime.

But hey, if leftist profs want their students to read “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” more power to them. Perhaps some of those students will recognize that what Orwell describes is actually happening in America right now — but it’s progressives who are behind it, not conservatives.

Rob Jenkins is a local college professor and freelance writer. He is the author of four books, including “Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility,” available at Books for Less in Buford and on Amazon. Email Rob at