Awsome Defense of Free Speech

Several times on this blog I have found myself defending "hate speech".  Not because I agreed with it, but because I am deeply concerned that the effort to label certain speech "hate speech" is part of a general campaign to limit first amendment rights.  If speech limiters are successful in establishing the principal that certain speech is so bad that it is not protected by the first amendment, then we are suddenly at the mercy of whoever is in charge of defining "bad" for our speech rights.  Universities, ironically at the forefront of the "free speech" movement of the 60's, have been at the forefront of "hostile environment" limitations on speech in this decade.

There are many such examples.  The group FIRE, which fights speech limitations on campus, has a blog and a university rating system that is a great resource.  One recent example from their files is of Mr. J. Daniel at William Patterson University in New Jersey.  A couple of facts first, and then a fantastic letter in his defense from Rutgers professor Norman Levitt.  The background:

Mr. Daniel was one addressee of a mass mailing from Prof. Scala publicizing a
film she was about to show, a documentary that presented a positive view of
lesbian relationships. Mr. Daniel, who espouses religious doctrines deploring
homosexuality, responded with a request not to be sent similar notices in the
future, along with a few brief sentences summarizing his general views. It is
notable that he did not threaten Prof. Scala directly or by implication, nor did
he deny her right to show the film. He did not publicize the exchange. He did
not use the incident to launch a campaign of ridicule or vilification against
homosexuals or anyone else. He merely counterposed his ideas to those she was
presumably promoting, in a purely private way and in response to an unsolicited
message directed to him.

What Prof. Scala actually did was engage her university president in a joint effort to censor and punish Mr. Daniel.  I have read Mr. Daniel's comments, which I don't happen to agree with.  However, the response he got to his very reasonable actions is very scary.  Prof. Levitt describes the rest:

Prof. Scala, however, seems to regard disagreement with her position as a
punishable offense. In this respect, she has embraced peculiar dogmas that have
become all too prevalent on campuses throughout the nation. These hold that
there are certain groups who, by reason of a presumed history of oppression, are
to be safeguarded from opinions that they find distressing or uncomfortable. The
rights of others to hold, or at least to express, such dissonant views are
supposedly nullified by the new-minted "right" of the protected groups to be
shielded from discomfort and distress. Both the ethic of free speech and the
constitutional guarantees that bolster it are supposedly trumped by the duty to
shield the tender sensibilities of the officially recognized victim class. If,
by chance, someone utters a sentence or two, even in the context of private
discussion, that affronts these sensibilities, terms like "harassment" and
"hostile environment" are immediately trotted out to justify retribution against
the offending speaker. In short, the assumption is that colleges and
universities have both the right and the positive duty to require students,
faculty, and employees to uphold official doctrine on these matters, if only by
silencing themselves if they happen to disagree.

Wow, I wish I could write like that.  There is much more, all on point and very well written here.

The NJ Attorney General has chimed in and said... wait for it ... that Ms. Scala is entirely in the right and that Mr. Daniel is probably guilty of harassment and discrimination under NJ law as well for expressing his opinions.

By the way, if you think that Professor Levitt was exaggerating for saying that speech is condemned merely if it hurts the feelings of someone in a protected group, here is a very typical quote from a college speech code (I just grabbed the first one I found on the FIRE site):

The Albertson College
Student Handbook
's harassment policy states that "[a]ny comments or conduct
relating to a person's race, gender, religion, disability, age or ethnic
background that fail to respect the dignity and feelings of the individual are
unacceptable." The Handbook also provides that "[a]ll inappropriate behaviors
may not be specifically covered in the misconduct definitions, and students will
be held accountable for behaviors considered inconsistent with the standards and
expectations described in this handbook."

Just to prove this is not an aberration, here is another:

The Rhodes College Policy on Discrimination and Harassment states
that "[f]reedom of expression does not include the right to intentionally and
maliciously aggravate, intimidate, ridicule or humiliate another person." Now,
we at FIRE know that all too many university administrators believe this
statement to be true; this is apparent from the way speech codes are enforced on
campuses across the country. However, few colleges and universities are bold
enough to make an explicit statement about free expression that directly
contradicts U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The administrators of Rhodes College
need to read the Supreme Court's decision in , in which the Court upheld
Hustler's right to publish a parody suggesting that Jerry Falwell's first sexual
experience was a drunken tryst in an outhouse with his own mother. Parody and
satire"”which often intentionally and maliciously ridicule and humiliate their
targets"”enjoy the strongest constitutional protection.

Update:  By the way, here is the whole text of the email in question.  Don't agree with him, but I have a hard time seeing anyone threatened and certainly can't fathom kicking the guy out of school and threatening him with prosecution for it.  More evidence that the promotors of diversity don't actually want diversity.



  1. roaring tiger:

    I'm with you!

    Additionally, count me as one lesbian who neither needs nor wants protectionism from folks exercising a request to be dropped from a mailing list.

    I don't agree with religious doctrines that decry homosexuality. However, I believe 100% in the right of such folks to express their beliefs...just as I believe 100% in my right to express my opposition to their views.

    And shame on a college professor for lacking the ability to withstand a differing opinion, even when it appears to have been provided with respect. After all, theoretically, college professors should be adept at critical debate. Theoretically.

  2. Matt:

    We can also look North of the border, where speaking against same-sex "marriage" (which is very much a live political question there) is now punishable by law.

    I'm not prepared to buy into FIRE-esque arguments to the effect that the 1st Amendment constrains the policies and actions of private colleges (down that road lie outcomes even worse than speech codes)...but that doesn't mean I don't think the trend has been very much in the wrong direction.

  3. spectregunner:

    Clearly Mr. Daniel undertook a bad course of action. There is no recourse now. Rather than attempting civil discourse, he should have simply added the good professor to the mailing list for all annoucement dealing with his religious beliefs, something that I hope all of his colleagues shoud immediately do -- to the extent that the good professor finds her mailbox overflowing with pro-Christian, anti-same-sex literature, and we would then get to see how she reacts when hit with unsolicited materials that offend her core beliefs.

    On the basis of her complaints against Mr. Daniel, all she could do is suck it up and keep her mouth shut, for any other course of action would be in direct contrast to the position she has taken vis-a-vis Mr. Daniel.

  4. John Gillmartin:

    This kind of behavior by the intolerant tolerance gestapo is going to break the back of this country. I hope I don't live to see it.

    Excellent post.

  5. Scott in SF:

    You left out an interesting angle: The man who thought homosexuality was a perversion is named is Jihad Daniel. Probably not a Christian.

    And you write better than Levitt.