Free speech on campus in peril

Greg Lukianoff is president of the estimable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which monitors and campaigns for free speech on American college campuses. One of their main activities is lobbying against speech codes, codes that I consider both unnecessary and undemocratic in universities. After all, students are about 18 when they arrive at an American university, and that’s old enough to be able to tolerate speech, hateful or not, without beefing about being “offended.”

Moreover, one of the main values of college, as I see it, is to expose students to a diversity of viewpoints, which is the only way to examine if yours are correct. It’s a growing experience that absolutely requires freedom of expression, even if you don’t like what you hear.

In the October 24 issue of the New York Times, “Feigning free speech on campus,” Lukianoff bemoans the increasing suppression of the First Amendment on campuses:

Colleges and universities are supposed to be bastions of unbridled inquiry and expression, but they probably do as much to repress free speech as any other institution in young people’s lives. In doing so, they discourage civic engagement at a time when debates over deficits and taxes should make young people pay more attention, not less.

Since the 1980s, in part because of “political correctness” concerns about racially insensitive speech and sexual harassment, and in part because of the dramatic expansion in the ranks of nonfaculty campus administrators, colleges have enacted stringent speech codes. These codes are sometimes well intended but, outside of the ivory tower, would violate the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. From protests and rallies to displays of posters and flags, students have been severely constrained in their ability to demonstrate their beliefs. The speech codes are at times intended to enforce civility, but they often backfire, suppressing free expression instead of allowing for open debate of controversial issues.

You might wonder why students on campuses don’t have the same Constitutional rights as Americans as a whole. Well, public universities do, but schools like the University of Chicago aren’t required to abide by the Constitution when it comes to speech.

As Lukianoff notes:

In a study of 392 campus speech codes last year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where I work, found that 65 percent of the colleges had policies that in our view violated the Constitution’s guarantee of the right to free speech.

How does this play out? Lukianoff gives a few chilling examples. My own alma mater for graduate school is one:

Last year, incoming Harvard freshmen were pressured by campus officials to sign an oath promising to act with “civility” and “inclusiveness” and affirming that “kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.” Harry R. Lewis, a computer science professor and a former dean of Harvard College, was quick to criticize the oath. “For Harvard to ‘invite’ people to pledge to kindness is unwise, and sets a terrible precedent,” he wrote on his blog. “It is a promise to control one’s thoughts.”

This is at Harvard, for crying out loud: American’s flagship university! Here are two more:

Last month, Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., forbade students toprotest an appearance by Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee. Why? According to university policy, students must apply 10 business days in advance to demonstrate in the college’s tiny “free speech zone” — and Mr. Ryan’s visit was announced on a Sunday, two days before his Tuesday visit.

Also last month, a student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, was blocked from putting a notice on her door arguing that neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney was fit for office. (She successfully appealed.) And over the summer, a federal judge struck down the University of Cincinnati’s “free speech zone,” which had limited demonstrations to 0.1 percent of the campus.

Sadly, my own school has had a FIRE speech-code rating of “red” for some time, primarily because of its policies against “hate speech” and speech that is biased. “Red” means this:

A “red light” institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.

Several other of our policies, including free speech zones and the right of the university to remove posting in student residences that are deemed offensive, are rated “yellow light,” meaning “policies [that]restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression.

This distresses me. If someone wants to make a speech on campus calling me a “dirty Jew,” then by all means let them. I’ll defend myself with other speech, and defend their right to insult my religion, politics, or anything else. Speech-code policies turn campuses into mini Islamic Republics, in which anybody can be offended and force authorities to stifle whatever bothers them.  College students are adults, and should have the same rights as American adults who aren’t in college. They aren’t babies whose sensitive feelings need to be coddled.

Even more sadly, the students don’t feel safe to speak out. The most distressing part of Lukianoff’s piece is this:

2010 study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities of 24,000 college students and 9,000 faculty and staff members found that only 35.6 percent of the students — and only 18.5 percent of the faculty and staff — strongly agreed that it was “safe to hold unpopular positions on campus.”

Which misguided administrators have created regulations that make students wary of taking unpopular positions? It’s political correctness gone wild.

138 Comments

  1. Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    You know, the only way this is going to change is if students (and others) simply ignore these regulations.

    Speak your mind. Make them drag you off in chains.

    b&

    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Remember the 60’s & 70’s. Up the revolution.

      • Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        What surprises and scares me is how many people think that laws and regulations have any bearing whatsoever on unionization.

        It seems that people have completely and totally forgotten what a union is and what it means.

        It’s a very simple equation: nobody can force you to work. They can fire you; they can beat you; they can kill you. But they can’t force you to work.

        And the universal “they” needs you to work. Because they’ll starve and go bankrupt, themselves, if nobody will work for them.

        I don’t give a damn what your job is and what the laws say: you have the power, and, because you have the power, you have the right.

        Make them go bankrupt by having to hire a completely new workforce. Make them show their inhuman nature by hiring thugs to beat and kill you. Make them treat you with the dignity and respect all humans deserve.

        All you have to do is stand shoulder-to-shoulder with your peers. (And be willing to play rope-a-dope, of course — but what else do you have to fight for?)

        There is no corporation, no legislature, no police force, no army than can even theoretically stand in the face of a united workforce. And it’s about damned time we all learned that lesson again.

        b&

        • steve oberski
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

          I’m reminded of Einstein’s famous “Two Percent Speech” of December 14th, 1930 at New York’s Ritz Carlton Hotel:

          In countries where compulsory service does not exist, true pacifists must publicly declare in time of peace that they will not take up arms under any circumstances. This, too, is an effective method of war resistance. I earnestly urge you to try to convince people all over the world of the justice of this position. The timid may say, “What is the use? We shall be sent to prison.” To them I would reply: Even if only two percent of those assigned to perform military service should announce their refusal to fight, as well as urge means other than war of settling international disputes, governments would be powerless, they would not dare send such a large number of people to jail.

          Now that the prison system is being privatized and 3.1% of adults in the U.S. resident population are under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) the 2% figure does not hold but I think the principle is still valid.

          • Gary W
            Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

            What principle, exactly, are you referring to? If it’s merely that there is some limit to the fraction of the population that the government would be able to imprison, that is obviously true. But so what? Clearly, that limit is much larger than the “two percent of those assigned to perform military service” that Einstein suggests. And it’s also likely to be much larger than the fraction of the population that is willing to “publicly declare in time of peace that they will not take up arms under any circumstances.” So I’m not really sure what your point is.

            • steve oberski
              Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

              The principle of civil disobedience as alluded to in Ben Goren’s post.

              • Gary W
                Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

                I don’t know what you mean by that. Could you clearly state this “principle of civil disobedience?”

                If all you’re saying is that disobeying the law is sometimes the right thing to do, I don’t think many people would dispute that. But of course there’s enormous disagreement over which laws it’s ok to disobey and under what circumstances.

          • Filippo
            Posted October 31, 2012 at 3:21 am | Permalink

            “In countries where compulsory service does not exist, true pacifists must publicly declare in time of peace that they will not take up arms under any circumstances.”

            I sympathize with Einstein’s sentiments. Of course he himself made an exception to “under any circumstances” in the case of WW II.

            • steve oberski
              Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

              I suspect that like any reasonable person, his position on that (or any) matter was amenable to change as new evidence was forthcoming.

        • Pray Hard
          Posted October 31, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

          Damn, Ben, fantastic post!

    • suwise3
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Works if you have a whole movement behind you, as an individual, not so much. Especially when the university takes over the student newspaper and turns it into a bland propaganda arm of the administration, like they did at my university.

      They also instituted a “do-not-post policy” where every flyer had to be approved by a special office before being “allowed” to be on the public bulletin boards. (And this the university strictly enforced.)

      Not that such cannot be fought, but this was a commuter campus and everyone was just trying to get a degree. All these measures were just enervating.

      • Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        Works if you have a whole movement behind you, as an individual, not so much.

        Every movement starts with an individual.

        b&

    • Pray Hard
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      Exactly …

  2. Douglas E
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    When I read this article on the 24th, this struck me as a very astute analysis:

    “Since the 1980s….. in part because of the dramatic expansion in the ranks of nonfaculty campus administrators, colleges have enacted stringent speech codes.”

    Almost every university has seen a dramatic rise in non-teaching personnel, with profligate increases in vice-this, that and the other thing, associate- etc. Even worse than having simply nonacademics in leadership positions is the fact that many in the higher echelons are nonacademic lawyers by training, with many of the remainder viewing higher education and the academy as just another business to be modeled after WalMart.

    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      A bit late to comment but I did teach at a university for thirty some years and over that time period there was an ever increasing administration (as vice presidents proliferated and associate vice presidents and associate deans and assistant — . The driving force was, “So and so nas an assistant (associate, vice whatever).” Thus, although work loads never increased people with administrative titles did. This creates a shortage of academics who don’t want to teach but do want the increased salary and imagined prestige of being an administrator. This in turn led to some universities offerring degrees in “education administration.” Having been on several search committees for presidents, vice presidents, deans etc. I have been forced to read the CVs (resumes) of these individuals and thus read the titles of their dissertations. Only physical education has dumber titles. Furthermore these people did not have to have a day in a classroom as a teacher let alone juggle three or four classes a semester. These people hold regular meetings at which a lot of really dumb ideas are promoted and many of these become part of the campus surrealality. Who can speak and under what conditions becomes a very real concern because speakers and listeners can create negative headlines for the institution – a very major concern. This is the same mind set that hushes up sexual assaults because of the negative publicity. Image drives the decisions and administrators tend (there are many fine exceptions but not enough) not to be the brightest individuals. Free speech can be embarrassing. It should be controlled. Administrators generally have not read either the Constitution or George Orwell.

      • Douglas E
        Posted October 31, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

        Amen Michael. A few more thoughts. I was a faculty member who proceeded through the ranks of the professorate on to department and division chair and associate and interim dean. I have always felt that it is incumbent upon successful teaching and research faculty to serve in those positions and remain firmly tied to their roots in the faculty. All too often is seems to be the weakest among the faculty who become deans and provosts and presidents. It is also important for the faculty to keep presenting the top administrators with data – they love to bloviate about how large the budget is for ‘instruction’ but when presented with a thorough analysis of how the instructional budget is spent, how much is spent on real growth areas such as more administrators and who is actually generating the revenue, sometimes they actually [grudgingly] agree that the size of the faculty also needs to increase.

  3. Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    I teach at a private university and we have to worry about enrollment.

    Hence, faculty expressing deeply unpopular views have reason to worry.

    Remember that the GOVERNMENT gives you the right to free speech, but employers don’t have to. You can’t be taken to jail for your speech, but you can lose your job.

    I don’t like it either, but it is reality at least at private universities, especially those who lack the prestige of elite universities such as yours.

    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      That’s what unions are for….

      b&

      • Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Yes, let’s not scrap the unions, as so many are trying to do these days. They’re the workers’ only defense against the corporate overlords.

        • theusernamejoewastaken
          Posted October 31, 2012 at 3:47 am | Permalink

          Indeed. I am a pretty far left, liberal, pro-gay, pro-choice, anti-death penalty police officer and if it were not for the FOP, I’d have been fired several times over by the supervisors who tried to get me on everything else they could. Had there been no union to back me up, our police force would be 100% right wing fundamentalist Christians.

      • Bob
        Posted November 7, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        Wow, talk about looking at unions through rose-colored glasses. The vast majority of Americans have rejected unions, yet you seem to think that compulsory union membership somehow enhances our freedoms. Unless of course you are arguing that someone shouldn’t have to join a union in order to hold a particular job, but I kind of doubt that is your position

        • Filippo
          Posted November 7, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

          Whatever position the majority of Americans allegedly holds about unions is noted.

          The purpose of a union is to empower flesh-and-blood human beings to collectively stand their ground in the face of private corporate tyrannies attempting to treat them merely and solely as “human resources” and “human capital.”

          Mitt Romney averred that “Corporations are people, my friend!”

          I will believe that when corporations can enter the military and go in harm’s way, like flesh-and-blood human beings, to be killed or maimed for life on behalf of their own interests.

        • Posted November 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          The vast majority of Americans have rejected unions

          No, management has succeeded in busting unions. It was done through the Orwellian “right to work” campaign, which essentially denied all affected Americans the right to assembly at the workplace.

          Then again, management has succeeded in stripping Americans of pretty much all our other Constitutional rights while we’re slaving for them, so this shouldn’t come as such a shock.

          And, you know what? It’s still bullshit. If workers had the balls to strike when necessary, “right to work” laws wouldn’t be worth the paper they’re printed on.

          b&

        • suwise3
          Posted November 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

          Have a friend who moved from Indiana to South Carolina, a “right-to-work” state. She found out that this meant that the contractors fixing her deck could just quit in the middle of the job to never return and that the plumbers didn’t have to have any actual knowledge of the difference between various kinds of pipe and their uses. She threatened to report them to the BBB and they laughed at her and said “Go ahead!”

    • eric
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      While I certainly think that professors should be given freer speech in their employment than most private employees due to the nature of the job, this is primarily about student speech.

      The students are not employees, thus, your argument doesn’t work for them.

      • Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

        True, I was just addressing the numbers that talk about “faculty”.

    • Filippo
      Posted October 31, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      “Remember that the GOVERNMENT gives you the right to free speech, but employers don’t have to.”

      Suppose a state government decided to sell one of the major campuses of its state-wide public university system to a private corporate tyranny. Would the same speech allowed at and by the former – presto! – no longer be allowed at and by the latter?

      • Posted October 31, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        Also, every private university I’m aware of is heavily subsidized by the Federal Government, from research grants to student financial aid and more. Not to mention the benefit they get from their feeder system — namely, public schools.

        Why should an institution that sucks so generously at the public teat be granted free license to spit in the face of our most cherished principles?

        b&

    • Bob
      Posted November 7, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Good lord, the government doesn’t “give you the right to free speech”, you were born with that right. It is the goverment’s job to protect it.

  4. Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Political correctness,like everything else, can be overdone. Frankly, I think this stems from the civil rights & women’s movements; once all the dust had settled, it suddenly became uncool to criticize any of the aims of these noble movements. Some of the attitudes engendered by them may have been a little over the top and, in retrospect, are legitimately re-examined.

    • suwise3
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      It never became “uncool” to criticize the civil rights or the women’s movement. Never. And when a black man was elected president, the critics started in *within an hour* of his inauguration.

      • Posted October 30, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        +1

      • Bob
        Posted November 7, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        And here we go with the nonsense that criticizing Barack Obama is inherently racist.

    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Somehow a line got crossed between women and Blacks saying, like Rebecca Watson of the guy in the lift, “Hey, guys, please don’t do that,” to rules about what people may or may not say. (I was in broadcasting at the time, and there was confusion in the trade about what people might say on air versus what they might say in general.)

      The expression “political correctness” does not distinguish between what people should say if they want to be thought cool/civilized, and what people may say, with the implication that any breach of the rules was equivalent to being uncool/uncivilised and that suppressing this was useful.

      But now having read the posts below this, I am reminded of the fragile teenagers who are driven to suicide by hateful text messages. How do we protect them and freedom of speech?

      • Filippo
        Posted October 31, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

        “But now having read the posts below this, I am reminded of the fragile teenagers who are driven to suicide by hateful text messages. How do we protect them and freedom of speech?”

        Dr. Coyne, would you care to offer a thought or two about the above specific topic?

        • Bob
          Posted November 7, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

          The notion that someone is driven to suicide by a “hateful message” is absolutely ludicrous. If you commit suicide, it is entirely on you, and you alone.

      • Filippo
        Posted October 31, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        Just exploring what if any limits exist on a (public) university campus.

        What if a parent (perhaps a university employee or professor) is walking on the quad with his/her fifth grade daughter, and a college student approaches who, appearing at first congenial enough, utters profanities at the daughter?

        Is this merely and solely a matter of free speech? Is the parent constrained from absolutely physically working over the college student?

        • Posted October 31, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

          Is this merely and solely a matter of free speech? Is the parent constrained from absolutely physically working over the college student?

          Yes, and yes. Of course.

          If the student is being directly threatening, things may be different. But if the student is just doing a George Carlin impression?

          That’s fuckin’ right as tits, my good motherfucking cocksucking friend!

          …not that the student wouldn’t deserve a good piece of your mind, of course….

          b&

  5. Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I’m conflicted on the question of free speech. Until a couple of weeks ago, I took the simple (possibly simplistic) approach that speech is just speech, let everyone say what the hell they like, and people can react in kind. No one has the right to not be offended.

    But then I listened to a podcast from Philosophy Bites (unfortunately, I can’t remember who was talking – some female advocate of moderate restrictions) which brought up the idea that it’s a little naive to say that speech is harmless and we should have a free for all – speech is an action, and though it may not be physically damaging, it can absolutely be used to degrade another person’s sense of self-worth and even safety.

    I then thought to myself that the position I held previously is one that is all too easily advocated by privileged white men such as myself who do not have first-hand experience of hate speech. While I accept that there is a very dangerous arbitrariness to many speech restrictions, I don’t believe that it reflects the nature of human psychology to essentially base legislation on “sticks and stones…”. As yet, I’m still unsure where to go with these ideas, but I think there needs to be some provision that recognises some speech as a form of harassment, and if established harassment laws can deal with that, great, we don’t need to change, but if not, I think we have do something. For example, if a woman is walking down a street at night and a group of men start shouting vile, sexual things at her, those are not just harmless sound waves passing through the air, those are replete with implications and intentions, and could quite well give the woman cause to fear for her safety even if they don’t do anything criminal. That should not be acceptable. It’s all too easy to say that words are harmless when you’ve never been the victim of endless misogyny, racism, or homophobia.

    In cases where the harassment aspect is not so clear, the fundamental attribute of any such law that I would emphasise is that the speech could only be considered a violation if it is unequivocally ad hominem – you don’t get to claim that someone has offended and demeaned YOU if they have just critiqued something you believe.

    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      this approach sounds reasonable to me.

    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Wel already have laws against making threats, incitement to violence, and the like.

      But the examples cited here are of the forms of speech most held dear by our society: on multiple occasions, students were prevented from answering political speech with political speech.

      To equate a poster on your door urging people to vote a certain way, or people heckling a politician at a campaign stop with a riotous mob threatening gang rape…that’s just not cool, man.

      b&

      • Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        Then it’s a good job I didn’t equate them.

        • theusernamejoewastaken
          Posted October 31, 2012 at 3:51 am | Permalink

          theusernamejoewastaken likes this. :)

      • Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        I should also point out that my comments were, I think, clearly meant to address speech that is neither political nor overtly threatening. The point is NOT that the woman is actually told she will be assaulted, but that the demeanour of the people around her cause her to be scared. This isn’t about threats and violence, this is about peace of mind. Similarly, Jerry said that he wouldn’t care if someone called him a “dirty Jew”. Personally, being gay, if I were called a “dirty fag”, I would think it appropriate for that kind of speech to be banned. I have thought about this given my vested interests, and I would have NO problem with street preachers condemning homosexuality as immoral as they are expressing their ideas about something abstract. But if *I* was made to feel continually worthless as an individual, I don’t think society should sanction the right of others to do it. That’s why I included the final paragraph about ad hominem.

        [In actual fact, I would most likely not care if someone directed hate speech at me in particular, and I would probably not report the individual. However, I think it’s important to realise that we cannot expect all others, especially those more vulnerable, to be just as strong when subjected to continual verbal abuse].

        • Posted October 30, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

          It seems you completely misunderstand the social contract on which the idea of freedom of speech is based.

          You see, you only have the right to be openly gay because others have the right to openly criticize being gay. If you take away their right to call you a dirty fag, they’ll respond by taking away your right to march in a pride parade.

          Few things could possibly be more hateful than a Nazi parade or a Klan rally — and yet the ACLU will be there in a heartbeat to protect their rights to speak and peacefully assemble.

          If you’re wise, you’ll be there at the ACLU’s side.

          If you’d like to give a piece of your mind to the Nazi scum and the fucktards of the Klan while you’re at it, that’s fine. Better than fine — it’d be a good thing.

          But don’t you dare shut them up.

          And, yes. I’m sorry, but the right to speak freely far outweighs the right to not have your feelings hurt — and, again, we’re talking about speech and not stalking or threats or harassment. You know why? Because the mopery of the thin-skinned is nothing compared to the bloodshed that inevitably results when a people are systematically prevented from expressing themselves peacefully.

          What I fear is that too many people, like you, have forgotten the horrors that taught us the true value of free speech, especially of offensive and hateful and hurtful speech.

          There are things far worse than being called a dirty fag, and, I assure you, you’ll get to experience those evils firsthand if you try to use the force of law to silence the homophobes.

          b&

          • eNeMeE
            Posted October 30, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

            Could you point to the consequences currently being suffered in Canada and Germany due to their restrictions on speech?

            I’m unaware of any and would like to remedy that situation.

            • Gary W
              Posted October 30, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

              According to Wikipedia, despite broad language in its federal constitution protecting free speech, many types of speech are criminalized under German law, including:

              – Blasphemy
              – Insult (specifically including insults of Faiths and religious organizations)
              – Malicious gossip
              – Speech that is held to “incite popular hatred.”
              – Disparagement of the President or the German State
              – Dissemination of pornographic writings

              You don’t think criminalizing these kinds of speech could have bad consequences?

            • Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

              I am neither Canadian nor German and am therefore unqualified to comment on the particulars in either country.

              However, if I had to speculate, I would suggest that either the bans are commonly ignored or there’s a very serious backlash brewing underground and out of sight.

              I think everybody understands that the prohibition of alcohol was a really bad idea. Not only did it not significantly reduce consumption of alcohol, it made the social problems of alcohol worse, and it created a whole new raft of social problems that didn’t exist before.

              If you think prohibition of alcohol is bad, prohibition of speech is a thousand times more toxic.

              b&

              • eNeMeE
                Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

                So no evidence of consequences, just speculation based on your own preferences and ideas of how the world should be run?

              • Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

                I’m sorry. I must have missed the memo that states that only evidence from Canadian and German societies can be considered valid.

                You asked for my opinion about Canada and Germany specifically. If it’s instead evidence to support my position that you’re after, the Wikipedia article on the subject is a not-bad starting point.

                I refer you to such an elementary source because, once again, this is a topic that you should be more than familiar with before getting a high school diploma.

                Or are there no more civics classes in schools these days?

                b&

              • Gary W
                Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

                However, if I had to speculate, I would suggest that either the bans are commonly ignored

                Sodomy laws were commonly ignored. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have bad consequences.

                I think everybody understands that the prohibition of alcohol was a really bad idea.

                Was it? How do you know? Prohibition certain had bad consequences (gang violence, etc.), but then so does the widespread availability of alcohol — alcoholism, alcohol-related domestic abuse and other violent crime, drunk driving, etc.

                Not only did it not significantly reduce consumption of alcohol,

                How do you know this? Has it been rigorously established through scientific study? Is there an expert consensus that the legal status of alcohol-related activities (production, possession, distribution, sale, etc.) has no effect on the level of consumption? The claim sounds implausible on its face.

              • Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

                Gary, are you seriously arguing in favor of the return of the Volstead Act, or are you just looking for a fight?

                Either way, only a single response is suitable: “Stupid git.”

                b&

              • Gary W
                Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

                Gary, are you seriously arguing in favor of the return of the Volstead Act

                No, I’m asking you to provide evidence for your claims about the effects of the legal status of alcohol. Do you have it or don’t you?

                You’re engaging in personal attacks again. If you continue to do so I’ll alert Jerry. You’ve been warned about this before repeatedly.

          • Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

            I fully accept the confounds of restricted speech, but I don’t buy this hyper-alarmist, all-or-nothing simplicity, and while you may accuse me of not realising what privilege I have, I equally reassert that you don’t understand the severe consequences of continued verbal abuse against the vulnerable.

            • Posted October 31, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

              If the “continued verbal abuse” you’re referring to is some variation on the stalking / harassment / assault theme, it’s already illegal.

              If, instead, you’re complaining that there’s a general pervasiveness in society that certain types of people are unpopular, and some of the people who fit into those stereotypes suffer from mental illnesses that make them especially susceptible to perceived criticism…well, sorry.

              The solution to the problem you’re complaining about most emphatically is not to turn our society into a rubber room for the benefit of the sick.

              It’s to heal the sick so they can enjoy the great outdoors, complete with yellowjackets at birthday barbecues.

              b&

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:28 am | Permalink

                +1

          • theusernamejoewastaken
            Posted October 31, 2012 at 3:53 am | Permalink

            theusernamejoewastaken likes this too. :)

          • Posted October 31, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

            Is there any merit in distinquishing how speech is directed? “Fags/Jews are dirty” is one thing, “You dirty fag/Jew!” something else.

            I’m reluctantly driven to the position that nobody has a right not to take offence, but is there a right to deliberately direct offence at someone? Where does speech cross the line into action? We see everywhere on the Internet, the phenomenon of the troll, the person whose only intention is to rark someone up and provoke them into an angry response. Is a saintly unprovokability going to be a necessary part of everyone’s armamentarium? I think I’m herding myself (easier than cats) towards the position that it is – something else that ought to be taught to children at an early age: “It’s just words dear, s/he’s just being silly, trying to make you angry. If you get angry, you’re doing what s/he wants….”

            • Posted October 31, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

              I think I’m herding myself (easier than cats) towards the position that it is – something else that ought to be taught to children at an early age

              Yes, this, exactly.

              If you depend on what others think of you for your happiness, you will never be happy.

              b&

        • eric
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

          As Ben pointed out, criminalizing speech because it makes you feel one way or the other (unsafe, etc.) is a double-edged sword. Someone’s going to come along and say that your vocal gayness makes them concerned for their safety. In general, you have to show more than that; that it was a credible threat, that they were trying to get people to act a certain illegal way, etc.

          SCOTUS does (or has) recognized a right to privacy; if someone doesn’t let you escape their speech (‘repated and unwanted…’) then they may cross the line from legal speech to illegal harassment/stalking. But if they’re in a public place and you’re passing through, you can’t really say that your privacy has been violated.

          Last (unrelated) thought; while I agree with you that words do have a psychological effect, US law draws a distinction between injury and legally actionable injury. I may injure your reputation with my speech, but I’m not legally responsible for that injury unless you can prove (a) it was false, AND (b) I said it maliciously. If you sue me and can’t show both those things, legally I owe you nothing and you’re going to lose. I would guess most nasty speech is going to fall within this category; either you can’t prove it objectively false (in part because it may be phrased as opinion), or you can’t prove that I had malicious intent when I said it. The TL:DR being: just because speech causes injury does not mean we should legally regulate it.

          • Gordon
            Posted October 30, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

            “SCOTUS does (or has) recognized a right to privacy; if someone doesn’t let you escape their speech (‘repeated and unwanted…’)”

            And would that “someone” include your employer? Yes I do know constitutional rights in the US stop when you clock in and don’t apply to employers anyway.

            • Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

              It’s well established in the US that the Civil Rights Act and associated legislation applies to private businesses. You may not refuse service to your customers based on their skin color, for example; nor may you base hiring, firing, and promotion decisions based on skin color.

              It’s loooooooong since past time we applied the same principle to those rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

              Employers most emphatically should not have the right to serve, hire, fire, or promote people on the basis of how they exercise their First Amendment rights. That they can and do is a great shame to us as a society. The same goes for the other rights in the Constitution; an employer should need a warrant to search your personal property or to monitor your personal phone calls or to install cameras in the bathroom, and so on.

              As the Libertarians so often fail to notice, it’s private enterprise that is the most immediate and pressing abuser of personal liberties, and Adam Smith’s invisible hand is powerless to stop the oppression they engage in. If it is right to prevent the government from infringing upon your civil liberties, it is triply right to prevent a corporation from doing so, as well.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • shelterit
                Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

                Indeed! That is, without a doubt, the most poignant libertarian contradiction there is, and should be blasted loud and everywhere.

                I can almost hear their reply of “… no, you have the liberty to quit!” That they can’t see (or admit) the insane recursion of freedoms slaughtered at their cognitive dissonance is puzzling, at best.

              • Gary W
                Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

                It’s well established in the US that the Civil Rights Act and associated legislation applies to private businesses. You may not refuse service to your customers based on their skin color, for example; nor may you base hiring, firing, and promotion decisions based on skin color.

                Well, sort of. Federal civil rights laws generally don’t apply to businesses with fewer than 15 employees. That’s a huge number of businesses.

                Employers most emphatically should not have the right to serve, hire, fire, or promote people on the basis of how they exercise their First Amendment rights.

                On the contrary, they do and they should. For example, no employer is, or should be, prevented by law from firing or refusing to hire someone who harms its business by lying about its products.

              • Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

                Federal civil rights laws generally don’t apply to businesses with fewer than 15 employees.

                That’s a bug, not a feature. Unless you’ve got a problem with the Civil Rights Act of 1968?

                For example, no employer is, or should be, prevented by law from firing or refusing to hire someone who harms its business by lying about its products.

                That would constitute defamation which is already illegal and therefore not protected speech. And whistleblower laws protect those who truthfully disclose problems with their employer’s products.

                It’s also irrelevant.

                Do you want your boss to have the right to fire you when you show up to work with a Gary Johnson bumper sticker on your car?

                No?

                Because that’d be perfectly legal today.

                Oh, the ironing….

                b&

              • jay
                Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

                Governments arrest and jail. Governments have an ironclad monopoly, whereas private institutions generally have competitors.

                Alas the government has displayed no interest in protecting your free speech rights in private areas.

              • Gary W
                Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

                That’s a bug, not a feature. Unless you’ve got a problem with the Civil Rights Act of 1968?

                No, it’s a feature. It’s a specific provision of the law. I have no idea what point you’re trying to make with your reference to the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

                That would constitute defamation which is already illegal

                It wouldn’t necessarily be defamation. And defamation may be grounds for civil action, but it’s not generally a crime. The First Amendment generally protects speech that makes false or misleading claims as well as true claims.

              • Posted October 31, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

                The Bill of Rights is part of Constitution, a document about the relationship between the federal government and its states and citizens. The Civil Rights Act is a piece of legislation passed by congress that includes statutes that apply to businesses. Businesses must comply with this legislation, not the constitutional amendments that define rights with respect to the state. For example, good luck suing your private employer for due process. Conflating and/or equating these very different legal animals is naive.

              • Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

                Conflating and/or equating these very different legal animals is naive.

                You misunderstand me.

                I know they’re different.

                I propose that they should not be different, and that we need laws to make it so that they’re not different.

                b&

              • Gary W
                Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

                I propose that they should not be different, and that we need laws to make it so that they’re not different.

                Yes, I know you’re proposing that. And I think your proposal is completely ridiclous. You’re saying, for example, that it should be unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire someone for a sales job who advises every potential customer not to buy the products he’s supposed to be selling to them. On the grounds that refusing to hire him would be an unjust violation of his right to free speech. It’s just absurd.

              • Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

                You’re saying, for example, that it should be unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire someone for a sales job who advises every potential customer not to buy the products he’s supposed to be selling to them.

                Seriously?

                That’s the best crazy Randian fantasy you can dredge up to protect those poor widdle corporate persons against the big bad evil of the people who work for them?

                Just out of curiosity, what kinds of sales do you think a salesperson is going to get by badmouthing the product? Do you think that maybe, just perhaps, it might affect job performance?

                Oh — one more question. Do you see anything in the Bill of Rights that says that a boss has to keep paying an under-performing employee?

                b&

    • tomh
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      There is a small, but perhaps growing, movement in the US that agrees with what you seem to be saying, best explicated in a recent book by Jeremy Waldron, professor of law and political theory at NYU and Oxford, “The Harm in Hate Speech.” What you call “peace of mind” he calls “dignity,” and he is especially concerned with the harm done by hate speech to the dignity of those who are its object. He views the harm as undermining a public good, which, as he sees it, is that every citizen should be viewed as someone who has an equal right to membership in the society. He is careful to distinguish “dignity harms” from hurt feelings or speech that simply offends.

      Personally, I disagree with most of what he says, but it is a well-reasoned, book-length argument in favor of limited hate speech laws whose point of view certainly deserves consideration.

    • Bob
      Posted November 7, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      You have got to be kidding me. To translate your post, if someone is offended, it is a violation of the First Amendment. Given that there are people out there who claim virtually everything is hate speech, your “guidelines” would completely eliminate the First Amendment. You don’t have a right not be offended.

  6. Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    “kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.”

    But, sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind! Disabusing people of their ridiculous beliefs is a kindness (as well as a social good)!

    This isn’t restricted to the U.S. There’s the ongoing kerfuffle about the pineapple named “Mohammed” at Reading University, which Ophelia Benson and others have blogged… um, websited about, among other recent incidents in the UK.

    /@

  7. Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    It is a shame. The word “University” loses all meaning.

  8. TJR
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    A University has a “free speech zone” and it doesn’t include the whole of the University??

    • Gordon
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Reminds me of Speakers’ Corner in Singapore where you can say whatever you like as long as you get permission in advance and subject to a whole list of other restrictions helpfully posted on a notice there. Strangely it seemed largely deserted when I saw it.

  9. Posted October 30, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Just like any private employer or other entity, private universities have no legal or ethical responsibility to offer unfettered free speech rights, particularly given the wide latitude of what constitutes “speech” under constitutional interpretations. They also have a mandate to confer other “rights” on their community members, such as the right to not be harassed, bullied, or psychologically tormented.

    Faculty unions are essential for ensuring academic freedom and whatever other rights they deem necessary, but these are of course negotiated, not an entitlement in any way related state-granted rights or any sort of inalienable “human” right. It’s absurdly naive to think otherwise.

    Speech is not inherently harmless. If my daughter in her dorm room has to hear male students chanting about the joys of date rape outside her window at night, I would consider this clear harm (not just threat of harm) and a violation of a right we should have every expectation of a private university offering: the right to an environment conducive to scholarship and intellectual growth. I have no problem with private institutions deciding that certain forms of speech and behavior are not conducive to such an environment. Students and faculty should participate in determining what this environment should be. Those displeased with the outcome are fortunately not required to live under the rules of any private institution or employer.

    The incessant and hysterical privileging of any and all individual rights over even the most mild of collective rights in the US is ridiculous.

    • Circe
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      I completely agree. For instance, our esteemed host feels completely justified (and in my opinion, is completely justified) in instituting the following rule for this comments on this blog*:

      By all means go after my ideas, but a sure route to ticking me off is to make derisive comments about my boots, love of cats, appearance, and so on. That is rude and unnecessary. I don’t make a penny from my posts, so give me the benefit of civility.

      Similarly, I think a private university like University of Chicago is completely justified in enforcing that people on its campus should not unnecessarily insult its crucial shareholders (for example, as in the example suggested in the post, by calling Jerry Coyne a “dirty Jew”). I cannot see how being able to insult people based on their appearance or ethnicity is going to add any value, either to this blog or to the University of Chicago.

      * Though I would add that I have noticed that this rule is sometimes not completely observed in reserve: the host does seem to reserve the right to insult other commenters.

    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      Jesus Christ, people — the right to free speech most emphatically is not, never has been, and never will be the right to threaten to rape your daughters.

      The “threaten to rape your daughters” boogeyman is the reddest of red herrings.

      And it’s an evil red herring.

      Why?

      Because it’s always used to justify eliminating political speech.

      Just look at the examples Jerry posted. Do you think the student who had a poster on her door noting the evils of the two front-runner presidential candidates was threatening to rape people’s daughters? Do you think the students who wanted to heckle Ryan were secretly planning on threatening to rape the daughters of everybody present?

      The incessant and hysterical privileging of any and all individual rights over even the most mild of collective rights in the US is ridiculous.

      That is exactly what you’re doing for when you go on about people wanting to rape your daughters.

      I’m sorry, but my right to call Obama a war criminal trumps your “right” to not have to worry that I might abuse my right by committing the criminal act of threatening to rape your daughter.

      b&

      • Posted October 31, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink

        You’ve answered my “red herring” with a straw man. I didn’t say “threaten to rape,” which is illegal. I said “chant about the joys of date rape,” which is not illegal, and was defended on free speech grounds when it occurred on the campus of a private university.

        Your red herring is that this is only about political speech. First, there is no clear line of demarcation between “political” speech and many forms of harassing/bullying speech an institution legitimately might want to limit. Jerry’s own example is just a religious slur. However, the fact that being called a “dirty Jew” would not personally bother Jerry, someone in a position of power on campus as a tenured and respected faculty member, does not mean a private institution can’t or shouldn’t reflect on how being called a slur might affect a student, custodian, or other less privileged member of a university community, and make policies indicating that it is unacceptable.

        Rights in private institutions are negotiated by members of that institution. At universities, this is primarily the faculty and administration, but also students and other employees. You have to win the negotiation for what you want, no whine about state-granted rights that don’t apply. Administrations are naturally reactionary and need to be pushed back against…UofC’s abysmal record on political speech is primarily a failure of their faculty. Anyone who knows the culture there know why.

        • Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

          What you described most emphatically was threats of rape, especially since you described it as taking place outside the victim’s bedroom window at night.

          Maybe if it were as part of an organized daytime demonstration on the mall they could get away with it, and possibly in a letter to the editor, though they’d still be skating very close to the line. But not outside somebody’s bedroom window at night.

          Either you’re misrepresenting the incident or the police and / or campus security fucked up big time.

          And, though political speech is far and away the most cherished forms of protected speech, it’s certainly not the only one. I proudly support the ACLU not in spite of the fact that they defend the rights of Nazis to chant epithets towards dirty Jews, but because they do that. And I write this as a Jewish atheist whose grandfather’s forehead bore the scar of a Cossack’s sword — a scar he got during a real-life pogrom.

          b&

          • Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

            Yes, a parade of students marched around the dorm area chanting as I described. Because it was not directed at an individual, it was argued that this was not a threat of harm to any individual. A FIRE spokesperson stated that they “seriously doubt” anyone felt threatened by this chant. My point is not whether it was or was not a threat of harm or would be protected speech with regard to the state (it would be), it is that the act itself is detrimental to the kind of environment a private institution may very well wish to, and has the right to, try and create for its members. Those who disagree have no obligation to live or work under those expectations.

            • Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

              Then I stand my my assessment: campus security and / or the police fucked up big time.

              Too much time might have passed, but I would urge your daughter to contact the local district attorney to press charges, and to contact the FBI and / or the Justice Department if the DA refuses for reasons other than too much time having passed (etc.).

              But the failure of local law enforcement to enforce the law is, once again, most emphatically not a reason for us to wipe our asses with the Bill of Rights.

              b&

              • Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

                What law do you think was broken? No one was “threatened” with rape, the chanters were simply announcing a personal advocacy for rape in general, which they later of course claimed was just a joke. It is no-brainer first amendment. No prosecutor would touch it. It is also totally unacceptable at a university, and a private university can do what they wish in terms of punishing the students who did it.

                A private university can also fire someone for saying there is no God, or that evolution is not true, or that Democrats are not controlled by the devil. This country has many such universities. No one is required to attend them or work for them. If you do wish to work for or attend a private university that has speech policies you disagree with, there are numerous ways to involve yourself in negotiations about community standards. Jerry is engaging in one of these by publicly advocating his position regarding U of C policies on this blog. One hopes he and others with passionate beliefs about these issues pursue them with similar energy through internal policy-making channels.

              • Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

                What law do you think was broken?

                I am not a lawyer, and the particular definitions of assault as opposed to battery as opposed to other offenses vary greatly from region to region.

                However, generally, assault consists of the apparent ability to carry out an unlawful attempt to commit violent injury upon another.

                If a man stood outside your daughter’s window at night and yelled, “I’m gonna rape you!” that would unquestionably constitute assault.

                Adding “Just kidding!” or words to that effect generally does not magically turn the assault into a non-offence, for reasons that should be obvious.

                And a whole gang of men chanting rape threats outside a young woman’s bedroom window? Are you kidding me? That’s like, the textbook definition of assault.

                No, saying that they’re going to commit the rape by poisoning the girl’s drinks at some unspecified future date doesn’t at all change the very real and immediate nature of the threat, any more than adding “Just kidding!” does.

                Honestly, what you describe is something that should have gotten a 911 call and the immediate deployment of every on-duty officer in the vicinity, weapons drawn.

                That it didn’t happen doesn’t illustrate any hypothesized problems with free speech; it demonstrates the fact that law enforcement — and this private institution you’re so hot to defend — doesn’t take rape seriously.

                b&

              • Bob
                Posted November 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

                Exclaiming that you think date rape is great(something I seriously doubt happened as described) is a whole hell of a lot different than standing outside someone’s window and stating, “I am going to rape your daughter”. The notion that stating you think a particular illegal act is great is the same as threatening to commit that act is ridiculous. As for the claim that the supposed date-rape lovers were standing outside someone’s window, on most private campuses it is impossible to hold any kind of demonstration without standing near to someone’s window thus the notion that proximity to a residence all of a sudden turns speech from non-threatening into an actionable threat is absurd.

                Again, I highly doubt said incident occured as described because unless the incident took place in CA(a state that requires private universities to adhere to the First Amendment)it is highly dubious a private university would allow a large group of students to loudly proclaim their love for date rape.

            • Bob
              Posted November 7, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

              I would love to read an unbiased account of incident to which you are referring because I SERIOUSLY doubt anyone was using a demonstration to geniuinely extol the virtues of date rape.

      • Astrokid.NJ
        Posted November 8, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        Too late Ben. They have already started programs to “reprogram” young men in college to “not rape”.
        Hamilton Requires First-Year Men to Attend Presentation on Campus ‘Rape Culture’

        “She Fears You” is based on the theory that men need a “combined cognitive and emotional intervention” in order to change their “rape-supportive beliefs.” Attendees will be told that when they make this an environment where it is no longer acceptable in any way to objectify women or define masculinity as sexual conquest, or subordinate women’s intelligence, capability, and humanity, or allow issues of racism, classism, and homophobia to go unabated, then this campus will be a better place for all of us to be.

  10. neil344
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    It is a difficult issue. After all, JAC has “da roolz” which include the suppression and banning of comments to maintain civility on his webiste. Why should not campus administrators have the same latitude to maintain civility on campus?

    Don’t get me wrong. I am a free speech extremist and deplore restrictions. But I also like civility. How do we ensure both?

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      There is a realm of difference between a privately-owned non-profit blog and a publicly-funded campus. The one is funded by tax-dollars the other isn’t.

      People have the right to freedom of expression in the street, but not necessarily in your living-room.

      • neil344
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        JAC mentioned private universities. Clearly any government organization is restricted by the First Amendment.

    • Bob
      Posted November 7, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      Either you are a free speech extremist or you believe in ridiculous civility laws that inevitably end up catering to people who are offended by absolutely everything. You can’t be for both. Why does it always seem people who push for civility rules always preface their statements with “I believe in free speech, but…”?

  11. Posted October 30, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    The issue is a bit complex. There are reasons for a campus wanting to maintain civility. Unfortunately, they sometimes go too far. The “kindness” requirement at Harvard goes too far, IMO. An expectation of civility seems reasonable, but requiring that students sign an oath seems to go too far.

    I don’t want to comment on all of the issues raised. I think the problem here is that it is sometimes hard to draw the line. Where a line has to be drawn, I would prefer it to be drawn in a way that is the least restrictive.

    On that last point – whether safe to hold unpopular positions – I would guess that some of the concern is about retaliation by other students and by those outside the community.

  12. jose
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Wasn’t that an illusion anyway?

  13. david
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    This is where I have my doubts regarding the “if a society is less dysfunctional it will be more enlightened” thesis.

    The very same illiberal thing is happening all over Godless, secular Europe. “Political correctness” and “community cohesion” take precedence over everything (except making money).

    And collectively speaking, we have no right to complain about this: this is what most of our political and intellectual elites want. It makes perfect sense that it is alive and well in academia, since much of it has been promoted more by academia than anywhere else.

    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      “Only by defining the boundaries of real tolerance can we ensure it.”

      Jewish Daily Forward
      October 17, 2012

      Seeking To Protect Kosher Slaughter and Circumcision

      Jewish Leader Unveils Model Bill for European Nations

      European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor has unveiled a model bill designed to set “strict legal terms” on religious freedoms in order to enshrine them in Europe.

      Kantor, who is also co-chairman of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, or ECTR, presented the model bill on Oct. 15 at the European Parliament.

      Designed to delineate the legal boundaries of tolerance in light of “anti-Semitism, racism and attempts to limit freedom of worship in Europe,” the document proposes to enshrine Jewish and Muslim religious slaughter practices, shechitah and halal, as well as ritual circumcision. It also recognized the state’s right to regulate these practices.

      Citing “overriding” public safety reasons, the bill proposes to ban burkas and other face-covering headgear. Kantor said he hoped parliaments of European Union member states adopt the principles laid down in the model bill in legislation, as “only by defining the boundaries of real tolerance can we ensure it.”

      The model bill was co-authored by Aleksander Kwas’niewski, a former Polish president and co-chair of ECTR, a Brussels-based NGO comprised of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, several former heads of states and others recognized for adding to tolerance.

      Under the model bill, “migrants who refuse to learn the local language may face deportation due to their unwillingness to integrate,” said Prof. Yoram Dinstein, one of the documents’ co-authors and an Israeli expert in international law.

      “Many support tolerance as an abstract idea but find it hard to specify how it should be applied,” he told JTA. “This document tries to translate aspirations into practice.”

  14. Posted October 30, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    “It seems you completely misunderstand the social contract on which the idea of freedom of speech is based.”

    Only if you are talking about the United States. Most of the other enlightened first-world countries have taken a different approach for about three decades now, and they appear to have had very few problems. They have not slid down a slippery slope to totalitarianism and, in fact, enjoy a far less censured press than we have here in the U.S.

    The idea that we must counter bad speech with more speech is, it seems to me, based on the concept that all ideas – even terrible ones – need to be heard in a free society. Personally, I think this concept is silly. All ideas do not have equal merit or add anything to an intelligent national discussion.

    What value does yet another speech on the denial of the Holocaust, for example, bring to the marketplace of ideas, especially in, say, Germany? Well, the Germans have answered that question for themselves, and the answer is that Holocaust denial offers far less merit then the negative effects on society which it engenders.

    Unlike Americans, however, Europeans do not go around proclaiming that their approach to free speech is the only valid approach and should be adopted by everyone else. Only we ugly Americans do that.

    Launched from a country that doesn’t allow breasts to shown on prime-time TV, and which doesn’t protect the independence of news broadcasts from corporate control, arguments that the American brand of free speech should be adopted elsewhere have s pretty strong aroma of parochialism to this observer

    • Gary W
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      What value does yet another speech on the denial of the Holocaust, for example, bring to the marketplace of ideas, especially in, say, Germany?

      The problem is that if you allow the expression of ideas to be censored, you create the risk that good ideas will be censored as well as bad ones. I don’t think it’s at all clear that Germany’s censorship laws do more good than harm. The presumption in favor of free speech should very, very strong, including speech that has no obvious value.

      • Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        That’s one very important half of the equation.

        The other half is that people won’t stop talking even if you censor them. What they’ll do is they’ll talk where you can’t hear them…and their talk will quickly come to plans for action.

        I would so much rather have Nazis openly gathering and meeting where the public (including law enforcement) can attend and make sure they keep their talk from turning to incitement to violence.

        Am I worried that they’ll therefore have the opportunity to swell their ranks with public recruitment? Not really. Sure, some will join, but those who would have posed the biggest threats would have joined regardless — and it’ll be those who’ll be even more inspired to fight the (not-so-)good fight against their repression.

        And how are we supposed to effectively counter the speech of the Nazis unless we can hear it for ourselves? If they inadvertently come up with a good idea, how are we supposed to adopt it for ourselves?

        b&

      • Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

        “The problem is that if you allow the expression of ideas to be censored, you create the risk that good ideas will be censored as well as bad ones.”

        So, your argument is that worthless even dangerous ideas must be heard, because no one can tell a bad idea from a good idea?

        Do you have much evidence to support your fears? Have the European nations been at a particular disadvantage in the creation/distribution of good ideas compared to the U.S. of late?

        Seems to me a good argument can be made that the opposite is the case. Germany may not allow public speeches favoring Naziism, but at least they don’t have half of their country thinking that global warming is a conspiracy. That very ‘good idea’ seems to be exclusively American.

        • Gary W
          Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

          So, your argument is that worthless even dangerous ideas must be heard, because no one can tell a bad idea from a good idea?

          No, I didn’t say “no one can tell a bad idea from a good idea.” I said allowing the expression of ideas to be censored creates a risk of that good ideas will be censored as well as bad ones.

          Do you have much evidence to support your fears?

          Yes, there have been numerous societies that censored the expression of good ideas in the name protecting the welfare of those societies. There are still are such societies.

          Seems to me a good argument can be made that the opposite is the case. Germany may not allow public speeches favoring Naziism, but at least they don’t have half of their country thinking that global warming is a conspiracy. That very ‘good idea’ seems to be exclusively American.

          If you seriously think that differences between the U.S. and Europe in the prevalence of the belief that global warming is a conspiracy are caused by differences in censorship, please provide your evidence for that implausible proposition.

    • jay
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Someone said: there are books in the library that should be censored. But no one can agree on which ones.

      The SAME laws that allow censorship of denialism allow censorship of religious ‘insensitiviey’ (the new blasphemy. The rules against speech disruptive to public order allow for suppression of opposition political opinions.

      And there ARE losses. People HAVE be successfully prosecuted (famously Bridget Bardot for criticizing Muslim slaughterhouse methods). There have been MANY similar cases which do not make the headlines but frankly there are subjects that can’t be published in (liberal?) Europe. Ebay can’t even display a picture or a description of a Nazi dagger or uniform, for instance. When I was growing up I knew WWII American veterans who had brought a lot of those home, and some collected them. These guys were anything BUT Nazi sympathizers.

      It’s getting worse. Wendy Kaminer has done some excellent articles on the insidious danger of ‘anti bullying’ legislation (after all, who could possibly want to protect bullies?) which starts adding LEGAL sanctions to speech codes. Actually criminalizing speech that the victim gets to decide if it’s offensive or not. Some actually encourage teachers to monitor student’s social network postiongs (done not on school equipment and not on school time) to look for signs of incorrect think.

      http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/11/are-no-bullying-zones-constitutional/247867/

      http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/03/obama-administration-soft-on-bullying-hard-on-speech/72926/.

      Free speech is exactly that. NONE of us have the right to ‘not be offended’

      This ‘speech is action’ meme is a deadly ruse by censors (often on the left) to paralyze real debate.

    • Bob
      Posted November 7, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      You gotta love a person who thinks government control over the press in the name of “protect[ing]the independence of news broadcasts from corporate control…” somehow makes the press more free. And who exactly protects the press from government interference? And once you decide that certain speech doesn’t “add to the conversation”, who exactly decides what speech should and shouldn’t merit such protection? As for the notion that Europe hasn’t slid towards totalitarianism, tell that the the soccer player in England who did jail time for using a racial slur on Twitter. Of what about the example of Oriana Fallaci, who was actually tried in a court of law for criticizing Islam. Or what about our neighbor to the north, Canada. A so-called Human Rights Commission told a preacher he was no longer allowed to criticize homosexuality in his sermons. A newspaper was hauled before the same kangaroo courts for publishing the Muhammad cartoons. In multiple European countries numerous papers faced the threat of credible legal action because they dared publish those same cartoons. Numerous majority-countries have “decided” it should be illegal to criticize Muhammad. Do you actually believe that the system we have in the United States is no better than that? If having to put up with crackpots who utter pure garbage is the price to be paid for a free society, so be it.

  15. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    While there is a solid basis in banning !*harrassing*! speech, a serious issue emerges in who has the power to decide what is or is not hate speech or inappropriate speech, and what sort of court of appeal one has if accused.

    The co-founder of FIRE, Alan Kors (whom I had the pleasure of having as a professor when I was an undergraduate), was very involved in the “water buffalo” incident which entailed insistence that a student racial slur had been made when none was intended. The student in question was virtually hounded out of the university over a simple misunderstanding.

    =
    In related news, Dinesh D’Souza’s first book from a major publisher “Illiberal Education” got a lot of credibility from the liberal press for its attacks on campus speech codes, but the school from which he was recently ousted as president, the Christian school King’s College, has a very strict speech code!!!

    • Posted October 31, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      “the “water buffalo” incident which entailed insistence that a student racial slur had been made when none was intended. The student in question was virtually hounded out of the university over a simple misunderstanding.”

      Reminds me of the public official who was hauled over the coals for using the word “niggardly”. (Why does the word “denigrate” get away scot-free, when it really does mean to vilify by reference to blackness?)

  16. Kevin
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    defend their right to insult my religion

    Why does that not come across as a concession?

  17. Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Freedom of speech is not freedom of consequences.

    You may be free to say what ever you like, but you may also incur a penalty for speech that is regarded as harmful.

    The crux then becomes how you adjudicate what is harmful.

    Defamation seems to be accepted as harmful, but we’ve seen that that can be used as a tool to stifle academic and journalistic freedom of inquiry (eg, Simon Singh in the UK).

    Verbal attacks on people are seen as harmful when they deprecate who that are (gender, race, ability, ,&c.), but attacking what people think (eg, politics, taste in music, economics, &c.) is not; that is where the marketplace of ideas kicks in.

    Problems arise in categorising some things. Sexual orientation may not be properly protected if it’s considered “a state of mind” rather than something intrinsic. Contrariwise, religious belief, which most here see as an idea, is increasingly given the privilege of something intrinsic, to be protected from attack.

    If was the last issue that, i think, the Reading University students sought to highlight; that religious (specifically Islamic) beliefs were – wrongly, in their view – preferenced over their right to call a fruit whatever they wanted to.

    /@

    • Ndesu
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

      You may be free to say what ever you like, but you may also incur a penalty for speech that is regarded as harmful.

      Idiotic.

      Idiotic.

      Idiotic.

      Brazenly equivocating between “free” in the physical sense and “free” in the legal sense.

      Just how in hell is anyone supposed to stop you from saying something at the moment that you say it?

      Cut out your tongue?

      Is that all freedom of speech means now? Freedom not to have your tongue cut out?

      I don’t recall Stalinist Russia cutting out anyone’s tongue. Did it have freedom of speech? ‘Cause by the thoroughly ludicrous definition of “freedom of speech” you’re plugging here, it had as much freedom of speech as anyone could ask for.

      • Posted October 31, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

        Thanks for providing an example that illustrates my point, Ndesu.

        You have a legal right to call me an idiot.

        But the immediate penalty may be a ticking off from Ceiling Cat. If you persist, the more severe penalty is that you may be banned from posting on this website.

        That in no way stops you exercising your legal right to call me an idiot in other fora.

        /@

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted October 31, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

          I may be wrong, but I think Ceiling Cat could distinguish an adjective in apposition to a quoted statement, from an epithet applied to a person.

          But if the shoe fits…

          • Posted October 31, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

            Actually, in the past CC sometimes hasn’t! I’ve defended others on that basis. In any case, I was using Ndesu’s calling me an idiot as a hypothetical, suggested by what they wrote.

            /@

  18. Trina
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t see the problem with asking students to act with kindness and civility.

    You can have fierce debate without needing to swear at each other.

    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.

      Swearing is and always has been one of the most expressive forms of language. Is it any wonder that people turn to vulgarity when passions run high? What other words are as effective?

      If a Klansman invited you to burn a cross on a nigger’s lawn, which reply do you think is better:

      “Kind sir, I respectfully ask that you excuse me for refusing you your generous invitation.”

      or:

      “Fuck off, you motherfucking sonofabitch asshole. I hope you catch your bedsheets on fire. Eat shit and die!”

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        Neither. You don’t need to be rude to answer no. Specialy with such person, you don’t want to him burning crosses on your yard either right? ;-) so you are not being just kind by not swearing but also being cautious.

        • Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

          Rudeness most emphatically has its place.

          Nazi fucktards and Klan shitheads are fully entitled to express their rights, but they are not entitled to be treated with dignity and respect by the population.

          You’ve heard that the proper way to answer speech is with more speech? Well, this is in no small part what that means.

          Besides, what else did you think the term, “polite company” refers to?

          b&

      • Filippo
        Posted October 31, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        OK, Ben, if you will reasonably, congenially humor me. If I may shift to the topic of speech as it relates to civil discourse between family members:

        Just curious – suppose you yourself had a hot-headed, hot-tongued, self-absorbed, and otherwise “entitled” parent, prone to rage and verbal abuse of others with precious little or no provocation (as defined by “The Reasonable Person”), who told you to your face – “Kiss my ass!” and “You son of a bitch!” (To that latter one would be tempted to respond, “You got that rignt!”);)

        Would you return a full salvo of choice blue language, or would you discipline yourself to refrain from responding in kind and/or cut off all communication and let the chips fall where they might?

        Cheers!

        • Posted October 31, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

          Honestly, there’re so many potential variables that I couldn’t possibly give you a reasonable answer. Is the vulgarity meant to be genuinely insulting, or is it just how this person talks? Does the person have a history of violence or mental illness? Have there been any recent traumatic events in the person’s life? What’s the context of the rant? What’s the history of the person with the target? How old is the target, how old the person? And so on.

          In person I’m actually very mild-mannered, if that helps. And my parents are also quite sane (within normal limits, of course!) and so it’s hard me to imagine that particular scenario.

          Sorry for the non-answer….

          b&

    • Posted October 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      I also don’t see the problem with kindness. Maybe because english is not my primary language and it has a special meaning that I’m not aware of. But to me it is like a synonym for “be diplomatic”, or “choose your words when argueing”, or even “argue the idea not the person”.

      So why all the outrage on asking for kindness? What does it imply that you don’t like?

      • Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        Asking for kindness is fine.

        Requiring that a student sign a loyalty oath pledging to show kindness is very much not fine.

        Schools often have significant numbers of international students enrolled. It’s perfectly reasonable to insist that a Palestinian student and an Israeli student must be civil with each other. It’s also good to ask that they show kindness towards one another.

        But forcing them to show kindness to each other, to be friendly and cheerful and complimentary and helpful?

        Not only would that be unreasonable, it’d be the perfect way to ensure the two remain enemies forever.

        Civility can be enforced, even between enemies. But friendship?

        Seriously?

        b&

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

          +1

          Rules, I can understand. Making me sign a piece of paper just says to me “We don’t trust you to behave properly”. Well screw you.
          You want my loyalty you can fucking earn it. You don’t get it by imposing this shit on me and it just makes me more inclined to sell you down the river first chance I get.

          (‘You’ not referring to Ben here, obviously…)

      • Bob
        Posted November 7, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        There is a difference between asking for kindness and mandating it.

  19. Pray Hard
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    All I can say is “Grow some skin”. Political correctness is toxic sanctimony. When people aren’t allowed to express themselves openly verbally or in writing, more dangerous and perverse forms of expression will arise. We’re seeing it almost every day in mass shootings and other forms of violence. I’m no expert, but simply watch what happens.

    • tomh
      Posted October 30, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

      Pray Hard wrote:
      When people aren’t allowed to express themselves openly verbally or in writing, more dangerous and perverse forms of expression will arise. We’re seeing it almost every day in mass shootings and other forms of violence.

      Lack of free speech provokes mass shootings? That seems an odd connection to make. Here in the US we have as much or more free speech as anyplace, yet we seem to have our share of mass shootings anyway.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted October 31, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        You have most of the guns, so that’s not surprising. “Your share” of mass shootings is the lion’s, and of course, most mass shootings by USAnians actually occur in other countries.

        Thus, any comparison across countries is confounded. I think a comparison through time is arguably more valid, and restriction of speech on campus is (claimed above to be) increasing over time. Causal connection with shootings is not implied by correlation, but certainly not refuted.

  20. cannonbeast
    Posted October 31, 2012 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    Many of my thoughts on free speech have been repeated by the people here already. I think that the best way to combat offensive speech is to increase the ability for people to respond in kind. Apparently Rowan Atkinson feels the same way too.

    • Posted October 31, 2012 at 2:12 am | Permalink

      +1 for Atkinson!

      -1 for embedding the video; Ceiling Cat will be after you! ;-)

      /@

      • cannonbeast
        Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        Sorry about that. How do I make sure I don’t embed?

  21. Gordon
    Posted October 31, 2012 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    An interesting case has just started in the UK employment tribunal where a Jewish academic is claiming that the University and College Union’s long term anti-Israel stance amounts to discrimination on the grounds of race or religion as it has created a hostile environment for him as a Jew. Much of the case seemingly relates to resolutions passed at the Union supporting an academic boycott of Israel.

    The case clearly has significant implications for freedom of expression and for the rights of members of an association to take a political stance. Given the tenor of the argument a scientific body whose members take a strong pro-atheist stance might be seen as discriminating against religious scientist members. The case is brought under the UK Equality Act and is clearly worth watching although it seems currently to be attracting little attention.

  22. david
    Posted October 31, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    According to the 2010 study: “35.6 percent of the students — and only 18.5 percent of the faculty and staff — strongly agreed that it was “safe to hold unpopular positions on campus.”

    How is this possible?

    Basically: The capitalists have won the economic battle, and the Gramscians have won the cultural battle.

    • Posted October 31, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      Where is the place that a large percentage of humans would be comfortable holding unpopular positions? Because that would not match my experience with this species of social mammal.

      • Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        Erm…by definition, if a large percentage of people hold a certain position, it’s a popular position.

        Not sure what point you’re trying to make….

        b&

        • Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

          The question was asked as a generality, so 100% of people may very well logically report that they are comfortable supporting some unpopular opinion, just not all individual unpopular opinions. My point is most people are not comfortable holding locally unpopular opinions, so 36% doesn’t seem particularly low to me or necessarily caused by the threat of censorship.

  23. Pray Hard
    Posted October 31, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Speech is either free or it isn’t. “Free speech, but” just doesn’t work for me. This pansy-assed, pc/mc idea that we have to talk on eggshells so as not to offend the whiny, faux, ultra-sensivtive, “incite” violence, etc. is a road to totalitarianism. We all know how to be civil in civil situations and my guess is that one hundred percent of us are, but when it comes to unacceptable situations, open your mouths and denounce it.

    • tomh
      Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      Pray Hard wrote:
      Speech is either free or it isn’t. “Free speech, but” just doesn’t work for me.

      So you would throw out all libel and slander laws? They surely restrict free speech. Lying in other cases is generally protected, witness the SC striking down the Stolen Valor Act, but in my state lying in the Voters Pamphlet is a felony. You would get rid of that, I guess. Also, copyright laws would have to go, since they are a severe restriction on my freedom. False medical claims, false advertising, all this would be permissable. It sounds like a wild and wooly place you want to live in.

    • Gary W
      Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

      Pray Hard,

      Speech is either free or it isn’t. “Free speech, but” just doesn’t work for me.

      Then you seem to be in a tiny minority. Virtually everyone seems to accept the legitimacy of SOME types of restriction on speech — from the classic example of falsely yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater, to dangerous speech targeting children (“Yes kids, those pills are actually candy and taste really good!”), to copyright violation, to distributing classified documents, to violating a non-disclosure agreement, and so on.

  24. marycanada FCD
    Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I have often wondered whether you receive negative feedback or any political harassment at Chicago U regarding this website Jerry. I’m a undergraduate student at a Canadian university where political correctness runs rampant.

    When 9/11 happened, I headed off to campus thinking how lucky I was to be at university. I was anxiously awaiting the political discourse that would follow. I had two Philosophy classes that day. One professor addressed the issue in a very short statement i.e., no discussion. The other professor went in to full authoritarian mode when one student mentioned the connection between terrorism and Islam.

    A few weeks later, Human Rights and Equity littered the campus with “Islamophobia” posters (still on display to this day). Anti-Americanism became the new political dogma and the foreign policies of the United States were deemed acts of terrorism.


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