Radioactive Speech

We have reached the point that one only needs to mention "radiation" and people go nuts with fear, no matter what the context or concentration (witness all the morons buying Iodine tables in the US after the Japanese nuclear accident).

There are folks today who are trying to do the same thing in the world of First Amendment rights, making any mention of violence, no matter in what context, the cause of a major league freakout.

Witness this story you have probably seen already, about the professor in Wisconsin who had a Mal Reynolds (Firefly) poster that had a quote from one of the show's episodes:

You don't know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you'll be awake. You'll be facing me. And you'll be armed.

To call this a threat is absurd.  In fact, in its original context, it was an anti-threat.  It was a statement of old-fashioned honor by a character who lived in a violent world.  And of course it is freaking fiction, and has no more relevance as a threat to real-life visitors to the professors offices than a picture of the Governator saying "I'll be back."

Not to mention the fact that such actions against speech are seldom enforced in a content-neutral sort of way.  One wonders how many Che Gueverra (a real life killer) posters the university tolerates, or how many "well-behaved women seldom make history" (arguably encouraging women to break the law) bumper stickers can be found in the parking lot.  The professor also had a poster taken down that explicitly advocates against violence, and had that poster taken down as well.  One wonders how many similar posters with eye-catching graphics one might find around campus advocating against violence against women or violence in Darfur.


  1. Micah:

    Fail. I was hoping to see:

    "one only needs to mention “radiation” and people go NUCLEAR."

    The bump and set were there, we just needed the spike!

  2. ErisGuy:

    When o when will my people want to free and rise up against their oppressors?

  3. bob sykes:

    This in a state where the teachers and other public workers unions staged violent demonstrations for weeks, complete with millions of dollars of damages, physical assaults, death threats and breaking-and-enterings.

  4. Jim Collins:

    I agree that the poster doesn't constitute a threat, but I disagree with it being free speech. If this poster was on the front door of the professor's house then it would be free speech, but, since it is on the door of his OFFICE it isn't. It would be the same if I posted this month's Playboy centerfold in my office. My employer would be within his rights to order me to remove it.

    Inconsistency on the part of the college administration about what can and cannot be displayed is politically correct bullshit, but, the professor's free speech rights have not been violated.

  5. caseyboy:

    I agree with Jim, employers have the right to put some limits on speech in the work environment, albeit some consistency would be nice.

    By the way does anyone want to buy some iodine tablets?

  6. drB:

    Jim, caseyboy:

    there is a difference between a private employer (who is well within his rights to limit some speech) and university which is supposed to be a bastion of free speech and free exchange of ideas as well as public space. Unfortunately, neither free speech or free exchange of ideas are tolerated at most universities. See also .

  7. Goober:

    There is no first amendment violation here, because of what Jim and Caseyboy said, which is true. But also what DrB said - we trust universities to be bastions of free thought and when they are not, and in fact turn out to be hovels of politically biased censors, i think that it needs to be made as public as it possibly can be so that these slimebags must perform their unsavory actions under the blinding light of day, and not in the shadow as they would surely hope.

  8. Russ R.:

    You know how you can tell there's no First Amendment violation?

    You'll have to read carefully, but the text says "Congress shall make no law..."

    Did this case involve any laws made by Congress? No.

    Therefore, no violation. Case closed.

  9. Joe B.:

    The 14th amendment extended constitutional protections from the state as well as from congress.

    The school, being a public university, operates as an arm of the state.

    If no law was broken by the professor in hanging his poster, then the Police Chief was acting "under color of law" in removing his poster.

    Therefore, a violation. Case reopened.

  10. Russ R.:

    Joe B.

    I'll accept your 14A argument, which would extend the restrictions in 1A to the Wisconsin legislature.

    Did the case involve a Wisconsin law? No.

    The case involved an internal policy at the University that did not apply to "the people", but only to employees (and likely to students) who would certainly have contractually agreed to abide by all of the University's policies.

    So, I'm not defending the actions of the Chief of Police/Director of Parking Services. I believe her interpretation of "threat" was incorrect, and that she likely abused her authority.

    But all of that still has nothing to do with the First Amendment. Especially that part about "Congress shall make no law..."

  11. markm:

    A) UW, like virtually all colleges, undoubtedly has a standard employment contract for professors, which guarantees academic freedom. They're in breach of that contract.

    B) If the legislature didn't make a law authorizing it, then an armed man tearing down the poster was an illegal use of force. And the legislature cannot make such a law - an unconstitutional law is a legal nullity.