The Right Not to be Offended

One of the main salients in the war against free speech is the notion that people somehow have the right not to be offended;  in other words, that authorities may legitimately limit speech that gives offense to anyone.

I could site a zillion examples, particularly on campuses, but this one is at the top of my inbox (emphasis added):

Sparks flew during question period at a Nov. 21 Carleton University
Students' Association (CUSA) council meeting after a motion that would
prevent pro-life groups from assembling on CUSA space was tabled.

The motion -"” moved by Katy McIntyre, CUSA vice-president (student
services), on behalf of the Womyn's Centre -"” would amend the campus
discrimination policy to state that "no CUSA resources, space,
recognition or funding be allocated for anti-choice purposes." ...

According to McIntyre, anti-choice groups are gender-discriminatory and violate CUSA's safe space practices.

The motion focuses on anti-choice groups because they aim to abolish
freedom of choice by criminalizing abortion. McIntyre said this
discriminates against women, and that it violates the Canadian
Constitution by removing a woman's right to "life, liberty and
security" of person....

McIntyre said she received complaints after Lifeline organized an
academic debate on whether or not elective abortion should be made

"[These women] were upset the debate was happening on campus in a
space that they thought they were safe and protected, and that
respected their rights and freedoms," said McIntyre....

Julien de Bellefeuille, Student Federation of the University of
Ottawa vice-president (university affairs), said that although his
student association does not currently have any policies regulating
anti-choice groups, he said the motion is a good idea and something
that his school should adopt as well.

Note that the debate is not over whether abortion should be illegal, but whether advocates of abortion bans can even discuss their position publicly.  Ms. McIntyre is arguing straight out, with no possibility of confusion of motives, that she thinks that women who believe as she does should be protected from being anywhere in the vicinity of an opponent of her position (presumably she could protect herself without this motion simply by not listening to such speech, so the purpose most be to eliminate opposing speech altogether.

I have a couple of thoughts.  First, there is no right not to be offended.  Trying to define any such right will be the end of free speech.  Second, its funny how the offense is only treated as one-way.  While I am OK with abortion, I have many friends who vociferously oppose it.  I am positive they are in turn offended by supporters of abortion, but I don't see any motion here to protect them from offense or provide them a "safe zone" free of opposing views.  Third, it strikes me that a better word for the "safe zone" she wants is "echo chamber,"  where like-minded people as her can be free from having to hear any opposing opinion.

Update:  The next item in my inbox happened to be on the same topic, and is from FIRE:

A professor at the University of Idaho has asked students to sign a
"statement of understanding" acknowledging that some of the films he
shows may have content that is offensive to some students. Inside Higher Ed brings us the story.

In a university culture where the avoidance of offense is considered a
sacred principle on many campuses, it's not surprising that Professor
Dennis West would hit on a method already commonly used when engaging
in nearly any activity that comes with even a minimal amount of risk.
It's sad that showing films to students can now be considered a risky
activity, but it's not surprising. Episodes like the University of New
Hampshire's reaction to a joking flyer, or Gonzaga's classification of
a flyer as hate speech simply because the flyer contained the word
"hate," make it clear that film professors"”who sometimes show graphic,
violent, or even merely political films"”do indeed have something to
worry about. This is a sad commentary on today's academic culture.


  1. Cam:

    Being a student at the University of Toronto, not too far from Carlton, I'm quite familiar with the pc views of the various student unions, student council, etc. A similar event happened at the beginning of the year when frosh (the party for freshmen) kits weren't allowed to contain brochures from the local pro-life group on campus.

    While I'm personally pro-choice, it bothers me that these groups feel they need to decide for everyone else on what is "appropriate." It's funny that while they come down hard on anti-choicers "because they aim to abolish freedom of choice by criminalizing abortion," these same groups don't think twice before using my tuition dollars to hold left-wing rallies that aim at using the government to coerce more money from taxpayers.

    Apparantly one has the right to not be offended, but not to control their own wallet.

  2. Chris Yeh:

    The endless hypocrisy sickens me. Why is it that people who don't want others to tell them what to do, are so eager to restrict the freedom of others?

  3. Rob:

    Dear Mr. Coyote,

    Your post offended me. It is obviously hate speech against people who don't like hate speech. I know that it's my choice to come to your website, but I think your blogsite should be removed by gov't so that I don't come here anymore, or anyone else who might suffer under your offensive speech ...


    points being... lack of personal responsibility among individuals, and the need to have a nanny-gov't take care of and shield everything from us, fuels this debate over offensive content.
    Basically, any view, except your own would fall under offensive speech, because when you say something I disagree with, you are attacking my already held beliefs.

    I think orange is the best color, but you say red. Well, you have indirectly attacked my view that orange is the best color. I doubt we will ever see this type of speech banned, but what's the big difference between saying that orange is the best and that same sex marriage is the best?

    My high school law teacher made a simple point that we have just as much right to hold a sign that says "I love apple pie." as we do "I hate same sex marriage."

    I guess we can still hold signs that say "I love apple pie." ... at least until Pumpkin becomes the favorite.

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