Students shutting down public speakers on campus have are becoming more and more common To the universities across the United States
Recently, at Stanford Law School, student protesters shouted a federal judge appointed by Trump and disturbed the speech he had been invited by students to give.
Instead of telling students they were breaking Stanford law speech politicsthe associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion, who attended the event, seemed sympathize with the students. Amount on the podium, she criticized the judge, in part because he was hostile towards student protesters.
Dean of the Faculty of Law later issued a public apology to the judge and explained to the audience that Stanford’s speech policies do not allow for coordinated efforts to shut down guest speakers.
The students then protested the the Dean’s apology, saying “counter-speech is free speech”. But coordinated efforts to block someone’s speech through disruption or the threat of violence, sometimes called “the heckler’s veto,” aren’t protected by free speech.
As a professor of constitutional law who studies and writes about the First Amendment and free speech, I have seen a growing number of cases across the political spectrum in which people try to suppress the speech of others because it is deemed too harmful. This is happening not just among students and faculty on college campuses, but among those on state and local governments, school boards, and library committees.
As an academic in this field, I know that the First Amendment rests on the belief that free and open discussion is the strength of democracy. Conversely, repression of speech does not conform to democratic ideals or practices.
The theory behind the First Amendment and the exercise of free speech is that speech, unlike physical conduct or force, must be countered by another speech. Speech itself is not violence, and stimulating ideas promote critical thinking and growth.
Much of the growing intolerance of speech has a common thread: instead of using speech or protest to counter speech or expression that critics don’t like, people on the right and left seem want to keep ideas they don’t like out of the conversation. .
Ban, suppress and close
In recent years, lawmakers and government officials as well as some parents and school administrators, primarily in Republican-leaning states, have demanded that certain books be removed from school libraries. Some government officials are also trying to facilitate the removal of books from public libraries.
Usually it is claimed that books are not suitable for children. Many books removed from libraries or school curricula include authors or characters who belong to racial, ethnic or religious minorities or who are members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The right, which controls some state governments, has increasingly tried to use legislative power to prohibit certain speech.
Lawmakers have proposed bills to prohibit teachers from promoting specific viewpoints which they deem harmful to children, or overly sexual, or which erode students’ self-esteem, including suggestions that members of certain races are inherently privileged or disadvantaged because of their race.
Lawmakers have also proposed bills banning drag shows where children may be present. A Tennessee ban was temporarily ceased to come into force by a federal judge. The ban likely violates the First Amendment because it doesn’t just apply to sexually explicit speech.
Not just conservatives
The intolerance of certain speeches is not limited to the political right.
Although many of the policies limiting what students read, see or hear come from conservatives, in some places high school administrators censor or punish conservative speech, such as requiring students to remove sweatshirts bearing a slogan critical of President Joe Biden.
Left, especially in higher education, promoted policies that would compel faculty and staff to adhere to certain ideas, including the university’s stated mission, undermining academic freedom and free speech values. An instructor at Hamline University in Minnesota had his job offer for the next semester rescinded after showing a class a historical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad that offended some students. A candidate for a post of school principal recently also had his job offer rescinded to address two women as “ladies”. This has a chilling effect on dissenting or even moderate voices in education.
In addition to the specific instances of repression of speech, a documented shift in public attitudes towards free speech is occurring that is more diffuse, but very important for democracy.
Young progressives seem eager to use the heckler’s veto to intimidate or keep people from talking.
For example, a former college swimmerrecently invited to San Francisco State University to discuss her opposition to athletic competition by trans athletes, faced protesters so aggressive she had to be barricaded in a room for her own safety.
Undermining the search for truth
Right and left censorship can be mutually reinforcing.
The universities are dominated in an unprecedented way by progressive teachers and administrators. In many universities, including mine, professors have demonstrate – sometimes even in their scholarship – a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
This mandate, according to many, flouts academic freedom And forces the teachers to tailor their research to a particular politicized view of group rights versus individual rights.
Many state governments responded to these progressive moves by enacting even more censored and potentially unconstitutional legislation.
Ohio is consider an invoice which prevents the teaching of certain subjects related to diversity in its universities. Part of the bill is to ensure that professors do not impose their views on students. This reflects a right-wing concern that professors force students to repeat professors’ opinions, or that professors present material one-sidedly.
In my view, these efforts to restrict what people can see, say or read undermine healthy discussions and seek the truth.
Make way for agreement
Yet historically, free speech has been an area where the right and the left have found a unifying, non-partisan principle. First Amendment case To THE Supreme Court are often decided in a way that crosses partisan lines, even by fairly politically divided courts.
The left, as a matter of principle, has been a great champion of offensive and hateful speech, including when the American Civil Liberties Union defended in 1977 the right of neo-Nazis to march in a city whose residents included many Holocaust survivors.
We live in a different world now, however, where white supremacist groups are armed and right and left are polarized.
Censorship begets more censorship. Attempts by both left and right to impose orthodoxy by stifling opinions ultimately lead to intolerance and authoritarianism. As Judge Robert H. Jackson said in a 1943 case that public school students cannot be compelled to salute the flag“If there is a fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or low, can prescribe what must be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion.”
Even if people don’t like to hear opinions that they consider harmful, this dissatisfaction is evidence of what I consider to be the most fundamental freedom guaranteed by federal law – freedom of speech.