Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Free Speech Defended

Let's say I sing a song. A hateful song, perhaps, one that offends a lot of people and makes my momma cry. One that gets recorded and makes teh interwebz overheat with all the bits and bytes of video on the Tube of You flowing to the screens and speakers of America.

The boys of Sigma Alpha Epsilon acted badly and expressed ideas that most consider unacceptable. What they did not do was commit a crime. Because it is not a crime to express unpopular ideas.

That's why you can be a Nazi and say that ol' Adolf was a great guy without being arrested. You can celebrate the Boston Marathon bombers with a pretty picture on your magazine cover and not get arrested. You can join the Westboro Baptist Church and say that soldiers are being killed because God hates gays and not get arrested.

The crime committed at OU was the decision by a government body, in this case the University of Oklahoma, to punish the fraternity and expel the students involved for speech that the college president decided he didn't like. Individually the college president can say he doesn't like the speech and that he finds it hateful and distasteful. Using his power as a government official to punish that speech is a violation of the Constitution and crosses the line into criminal behavior.
  We don’t provide student services for bigots,” Boren declared.
 Replace the word "bigots" with "Christians", or "Muslims", or "Republicans", or "women", or "black activists", or "gays", or any other group you like and it just doesn't feel right does it?

One of the problems with defending free speech is you often have to defend people that you find to be outrageous and unpleasant and disgusting.
--Salman Rushdie


burt said...

Whatever happened to "I may not like what you say, but I will defend your right to say it?"

Those students have one hell of a civil rights violation case - if they decide to sue, that is. The Supreme Court would defend the right of students to spout offensive but non-threatening speech in a NON-CLASSROOM environment.

Your comment about word substitution is exactly on point.

"[T]he core of the First Amendment," observed Justice Sotomayor, is to protect even offensive speech."

Amazing that even SHE gets it.

Jeffrey Smith said...

Note the overkill involved.
1) I have read this tape was recorded on one of three buses used to transport the group. Meaning there are two busloads of students being punished for an act they provably had nothing to do with and could not have prevented.
2) Someone on that bus took the video and released it, quite certainly because they disapproved of the song. Yet whomever this person is, the person who made people aware of the incident, is being punished for the thoughtcrine just like all the others.

Divemedic said...

This should concern everyone. What if a black student were singing along to these lyrics:


That uses MUCH more threatening and abusive language than the students here did.
So should all students who listen to hardcore gansta rap be expelled?

Not only is this a First Amendment case, but I think a Civil Rights case could be made here. Why can a black student use the N word and talk about killin Crackas, but white students cannot?

More examples:
Kill the white people; we gonna make them hurt; kill the white
people; but buy my record first; ha, ha, ha"; "Kill d'White People";
--Apache, Apache Ain't Shit, 1993, Tommy Boy Music, Time Warner, USA.

"Niggas in the church say: kill whitey all night long. .
. the white man is the devil. . . . the CRIPS and Bloods are
soldiers I'm recruiting with no dispute; drive-by shooting on this
white genetic mutant. . . . let's go and kill some rednecks. . . .
Menace Clan ain't afraid. . . . I got the .380; the homies think I'm
crazy because I shot a white baby; I said; I said; I said: kill
whitey all night long. . . . a nigga dumping on your white ass; fuck this rap shit, nigga, I'm gonna blast. . . . I beat a white boy to the motherfucking ground"; "Kill Whitey"; --Menace Clan, Da Hood, 1995, Rap-A-Lot Records

Sherm said...

I see your problem right there in that final quote. You're assuming the leaders of University actually believe in free speech.

I believe they do give lip service to the idea of free speech but adhere to the stricter dollar imperative.

Tossing a couple of kids under the bus is less likely to negatively impact donations and enrollments than will sweet words about speech. Petitions from the tenured faculty and awkward news conferences are also less likely.

I'm sure there'll by some nice uncontroversial way for the university president to show his commitment to speech and freedom in the near future. Perhaps mandatory sensitivity training for all incoming students?

Comrade Misfit said...

If it was a private college, then fine, they can do whatever they want. But OU is a state school and kicking kids out for saying hateful things? Good luck with that.

Hope the OU President has a discretionary fund for legal fees. For after he loses, he's going to have to pay the legal fees for the kids' lawyers.

Archer said...

Well put!

Substitute "Jews" or "gun owners", too.