May 2, 2017

USA TODAY EDITORIALIZES: Campus Mobs Muzzle Free Speech: Administrators and student groups play a role in the growing intolerance.

As much as university administrators lament student-led intolerance and narrow ideas about free speech, they played a role in their creation. For decades, colleges and universities, public and private, have been fighting in court to maintain ridiculous restrictions on expression. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education catalogs them exhaustively. Last month, Fairmont State University in West Virginia finally accepted that students have a right to gather signatures on a petition without a school permit. In March at Regis University in Colorado, the school shut down a student sale that charged different prices for baked goods based on the buyers’ race, gender, religion or sexuality to protest affirmative action. That’s the same month the University of South Alabama tried to force a student to take down a Trump/Pence sign from his dorm room.

And just like university bureaucrats who try to shut down speech they don’t like, student governments get in the act, too. Last month, Wichita State student government backed down from its decision to deny recognition to a student group, not because the group engaged in “hate speech,” but because the student group argued that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. . . .

Campus administrators and student groups, who defend the growing intolerance for unpopular ideas on campus, see themselves as protecting what New York University Vice Provost Ulrich Baer calls “the rights, both legal and cultural, of minorities to participate in public discourse” in a unique moment when Donald Trump, nationalism and the “alt-right” are on the rise. But those who’d restrict freedom of speech and association always have an important excuse for their actions. The grave threat of global communism abroad was no excuse for McCarthyism in Hollywood. European carnage in World War I was no excuse to shutter the German-language press at home.

True. And there’s no such thing as “unprotected hate speech.” That’s just a fiction — more accurately, a lie — made up to justify censorship.

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