The First Amendment’s main purpose in terms of free speech is that of protecting unpopular speech. Popular speech needs no such protection. The most recent Supreme Court ruling which affirms this occurred in 2011, in which the Court held that the First Amendment protected even brutishly hateful speech at a protest about a military funeral. Signs proclaiming sentiments such as, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” is protected speech. “Such speech cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote.
The trend in Supreme Court rulings regarding freedom of speech stands in direct contrast to policies being adopted on college campuses across the nation. It was never intended that free speech must be pleasant speech. For example, in a recent incident at the University of Oklahoma, some Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers were video recorded singing a song with racist lyrics. The offending students were swiftly deprived of both the right to free speech and due process.
The Foundation For Individual Rights In Education (FIRE) elaborates on the absence of due process in dealing with this incident:
“Blake Neff of The Daily Caller shares FIRE’s concerns about due process, as well. As he points out, OU has written procedures that dictate that students facing punishment for conduct code violations must receive notice of the charges against them, a meeting to discuss the charges with the Student Conduct Office, and a hearing if timely requested. The procedures even afford students additional safeguards when they are facing expulsion. Yet Rice and Pettit were informed by the university president—not the conduct board—that they were to be expelled based solely, apparently, on President David Boren’s judgment of the case. And Boren’s letter does not even specify what part of the student conduct code Rice and Pettit supposedly have violated—the most basic information they would need in order to defend themselves against punishment by the university.”
Regarding the issue of free speech at OU, The Volokh Conspiracy makes a case with these two points:
- “First, racist speech is constitutionally protected, just as is expression of other contemptible ideas; and universities may not discipline students based on their speech. That has been the unanimous view of courts that have considered campus speech codes and other campus speech restrictions — seeherefor some citations. The same, of course, is true for fraternity speech, racist or otherwise; see Iota Xi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity v. George Mason University (4th Cir. 1993). (I set aside the separate question of student speech that is evaluated as part of coursework or class participation, which necessarily must be evaluated based on its content; this speech clearly doesn’t qualify.)
- Likewise, speech doesn’t lose its constitutional protection just because it refers to violence — ‘You can hang him from a tree,’ ‘the capitalists will be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes,’ ‘by any means necessary’ with pictures of guns, “apostates from Islam should be killed.’”
resolution limiting free speech. Resolution 6S, introduced by Sen. Udell Calzadillas Chavez, was passed in response to what some believe is a widespread culture of fear and ignorance that perpetuates violence against Muslims–though according to the FBI, violence against Jews and Christians, percentage-wise, is higher.
Resolution 6S bans “prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force” and defines Islamophobia as “dislike or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.”
This is not the first time UNM has been on the wrong side of the war on free speech. In 2012 Nonie Darwish, an Egyptian-American human rights activist, critic of Islam, founder ofArabs for Israel and Director of Former Muslims United, relates the experience she had when she was invited to speak at the university:
“In response to the resurgence of anti-Israel activities by the Arab Student Association and their left-wing anti-Israel ‘un-Occupy’ backers, I was asked to speak at the University of New Mexico on February 23rd by the Israel Alliance group. The title of my speech was ‘The Dark Side Of Revolutions In The Middle East and The Implications For Israel,’ which is the subtitle of my new book, ‘Devil We Don’t Know.’
Even though the Arab students were having an ‘apartheid wall’ and a stop Islamophobia event on March 2nd, together with the local mosque, they urged the Israel Alliance group to dis-invite me because, as they put it, I am an Islam hater and Islamophobe. They presented them with a video of myself that was highly edited in which I spoke in a rally on the honor-killing of a woman in Florida, and I dared to blame Islamic law for the horrific murder of thousands of women annually. They did not succeed in dis-inviting me.
The occupiers did everything to intimidate my sponsors to dis-invite me, then protested outside the hall, and when that did not work, they screamed and yelled to silence me in the middle of my lecture.”
In summary, Darwish warns that “the day America shies from freedom of speech is the day freedom ends for everyone.” She adds: “If the ‘occupiers’ were truly serious about challenging my opinion, they could have waited for the Q and A after my presentation and proved me wrong. Welcome to the West Bank and Gaza culture on our university campuses.”
Moving on to Minnesota, a conservative student organization,Students for a Conservative Voice, was singled out for a drawing of Muhammad on the cover of its campus publication, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The University of Minnesota’s funding committee complained that the cover demonstrated “an overt lack of sensitivity to the portrayal of members of the Arab world.” Such material could, according to the committee, “compromise the cultural harmony of the campus.”
The Student Service Fee Committee issued this statement:
“After assessing this information, the Student Service Fee Committee would like to emphasize for the group the significance of culturally sensitive discourse on a campus like the University of Minnesota, which prides itself on being home to a wide range of values and beliefs held by members that originate from countless cultures across the globe. In the future, close attention may be paid to the content published by Students for a Conservative Voice to ensure that any material that is produced with student fee funds does not compromise the cultural harmony of the campus and to ensure that the material that is produced is not at odds with the criteria in place for receiving this funding.”
At yet another university, embracing a revisionist view of the Constitution, DeWayne Wickham, the dean of Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication claims the First Amendment ends at insulting Mohammed.
In Utah, a lawsuit has been filed by Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) against Dixie State University. The university’s policy maintains students should not say or post anything that “disparages” or mocks any individual–including Che Guevara.
The lawsuit was filed in response to the school’s refusal to approve YAL promotional flyers that featured negative images of Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Che Guevara. Robert Shibley, executive director of FIRE, points out that Dixie State also has an unconstitutional “free-speech zone,” which relegates free speech to just one-tenth of one percent of the school’s campus.
And, it’s not like Dixie State hadn’t been warned that its policies were unconstitutional. “FIRE sent letters to nearly 400 schools across the country, warning them that they had unconstitutional speech codes and asking them to work with us to correct them,” Shibley said. “Dixie State got that letter and didn’t respond.”
The federal lawsuit seeks the elimination of Dixie State’s speech codes. It is the eighth First Amendment lawsuit filed as part of FIRE’s national Stand Up for Speech Litigation Project.
Meanwhile, at Marquette University in Wisconsin, all speech that can cause “emotional discomfort” is prohibited. FIRE has named Marquette University one of the ten worst abusers of free speech.
Regarding this “harassment” policy, Shibley remarks, “Obviously you can’t have any kind of controversial or meaningful conversation if you’re not allowed to risk giving somebody emotional discomfort.”
There are many more instances of the erosion of free speech on college campuses across the country. Policies which censor free speech–and ignore the First Amendment’s protections–are widespread.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com