Tag: First Amendment

Are College Campuses to Blame for the Explosion of Social Media Outrage?

 

I just finished reading Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed which has been getting a ton of press ever since it came out in March. All throughout the book I couldn’t help but see the correlation between the modern social media outrage machine and what colleges seem to be teaching their students.

I posted a review of Ronson’s book over at The Huffington Post, but I wanted to share a snippet of it with my fellow Ricochet readers to see what you think:

Ithaca College Student Government Considers Anonymous ‘Microaggression’ Tracking System

 

prevent-snoring-tape-mouthThere is a chilling resolution that is currently under consideration by the Student Government Association (SGA) at Ithaca College, a private university in upstate New York. The resolution, which has the support of many SGA members, seeks to target so-called “microaggressions” on Ithaca’s campus by creating a tracking system that students can use to anonymously report incidents of perceived bias on campus.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a microaggression is a slight against another person—intentional or not—that is perceived to be discriminatory based on the snubbed person’s race, ethnicity, gender, class, or practically any other characteristic that one might think of. Princeton University students have called microaggressions “papercuts of oppression.”

For my latest op-ed at The Huffington Post, I tackle this resolution because I see it as part of a broader trend on campus to create what I’ve called “a war on candor.” As I write in the piece:

Must Read: University Ex-Admin Alleges She Was Pressured to File False Harassment Claim Against Faculty Critic

 

Ever since FIRE launched its Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project last summer, I have been telling everyone to keep an eye on the Chicago State University case. And last week, we were able to learn a little more about why the Chicago State administration needs more public scrutiny. As the Chicago Tribune reports:

The president of Chicago State University tried to pressure a high level administrator to file false claims of sexual harassment against an outspoken professor to help the college try to silence him, according to court documents filed Thursday as part of an ongoing lawsuit. In a sworn statement, LaShondra Peebles, the college’s former interim vice president of enrollment and student affairs, said before she was fired that President Wayne Watson pushed her to accuse Phillip Beverly of sexual harassment, though Peebles said she was never harassed.

Member Post

 

Give Kent Greenfield credit for being frank: he knows the First Amendment protects abhorrent speech, even that of the racists of SAE at the University of Oklahoma — but it ought not: We are told the First Amendment protects the odious because we cannot trust the government to make choices about content on our behalf. […]

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FIRE’s Worst for Free Speech Spotlight: Brandeis University

 

And now for the final installment of my Ricochet-exclusive spotlight on FIRE’s “worst” list for campus free speech in 2014. For my third and final spotlight, I want to introduce readers to the single college that has made the worst list more than any other college (finally edging out Syracuse University, which is a twotime recipient of this dubious honor). Here’s the entry for Brandeis:

Brandeis University

FIRE’s Worst for Free Speech Spotlight: Marquette University

 

And now for the list you’ve all been waiting for: FIRE’s “10 Worst for Free Speech on Campus” list for 2014. While the phrasing of that title may seem a little odd, we changed it from “Worst Colleges for Free Speech” this year because sometimes outside institutions are major threats to collegiate free speech. For the second year in a row, the Department of Education is likely the biggest threat to free speech on campus. You can brush up on the details in my December 2014 Ricochet post entitled Campus Speech Codes Decline, But Federal Government Threatens to Impose Censorship Codes at 100% of Colleges.

But I wanted to bring Ricochet readers’ attention to a handful of “winners” in particular. One of the most urgent cases here is the one still going on at Marquette University:

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Hate Speech Is Constitutional

 

Yik Yak, a controversial social media app, has colleges embroiled in debate as to the proper extents of speech on campuses. Yik Yak is a program that gives the user a “a live feed of what everyone’s saying around you.” On campuses around the country this can lead to predictable results when you combine adolescents, newly freed from the control of their parents, with the ability to spontaneously broadcast whatever they happen to be feeling in that moment within a 10-mile radius.

As noted by one writer at LSU, the results can often be what is popularly considered “hate speech.” Noting some of the truly terrible things that her fellow students feel free to share through the app, she writes:

Do You Think “Liberals Are Stifling Intellectual Diversity on Campus?”

 

Ricochet readers, I’d like your help. Next week, I’m doing my first ever Intelligence Squared U.S. debate defending the following resolution: Liberals Are Stifling Intellectual Diversity on Campus. This may strike some readers as a little surprising, as you all know FIRE not only defends people all across the spectrum, but also employs people across the spectrum (not to mention I myself identify as a political liberal, as does my debating partner Kirsten Powers). But, I have also never hidden the fact if you’re going to be censored on campus these days, it’s far more likely that you’ll be censored from your left.

Ricochet readers in the D.C. area should come in person. Those who can’t attend should tune in online. The winner is determined by how many people decide to change his or her vote, and given that I’ll be doing this debate at George Washington University, I wonder how many will be willing to do that!

Why Marriage in America Is Wrong

 

Marriage equality has become a sticking point for many Americans, primarily from the conservative side of the spectrum. As we get closer to the point where SCOTUS could arguably settle the dispute, I have been thinking about why we have ended up with the entire argument in the first place.

The basis of the marriage equity camp’s argument is the 14th Amendment, while those opposed tend to argue on the basis of the First Amendment (even though we haven’t really gotten to the point where lawsuits are being filed to force religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriage.) Ben Carson ended up in a minor situation with the Southern Poverty Law Center over the fact that he publicly stated that gay rights organizations should not be able to define marriage. Sadly, I can’t bring myself to agree with him, at least not in the context of state recognition of marriage.

What Were Your Favorite Books of 2014?

 

Back in early January, I was just about to publish a list of some of my favorite books of 2014 when the free speech world exploded due to the horrible murders in Paris. I wrote a little bit about my thoughts on the issue for The Huffington Post about a week later, pointing out that the decision not to publish the Mohammed cartoons almost a decade ago may have been a fateful error. I decided to put off my review of books 2014 until today.

As you can see, like I do all my book reviews, I try to focus on how the book’s arguments or findings relate to my work defending free speech on campus and in the larger world. In this case I focused on The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just Your “Good” Self—Drives Success and Fulfillment. The book is fascinating, as it argues for the psychological benefits of “negative” emotional states. It took me 2000+ words to do the book justice, but I thought Ricochet readers might like this excerpt:

Bask in the Crazy: Hate Speech

 

Though the bulk of a conservative’s time engaging liberal arguments is best spent addressing their most pointed and nuanced positions, I believe we should occasionally indulge ourselves by reveling in their worst arguments and fringe elements. Arguments such as this piece by Tanya Cohen which flips George Orwell the proverbial bird.

Published on the site Thought Catalogue — a name is straight out of an Orwell novel — Cohen makes the case that the United States trails far behind such paragons of virtue as Turkey, Jordan, Russia and India when it comes to basic human rights.

Campus Speech Codes Decline, But Federal Government Threatens to Impose Censorship Codes at 100% of Colleges

 

The Wall Street Journal penned a great staff editorial about my organization’s (FIRE’s) 2015 speech code report, which was just officially released today. There is some good news in the report, as the Journal reports:

55% of the 437 colleges it surveyed this year maintain “severely restrictive” policies that “clearly and substantially prohibit protected speech.” They include 61 private schools and 180 public colleges. Incredibly, this represents progress from Fire’s survey seven years ago when 75% of colleges maintained restrictive free speech codes.

Arguing Maher: Can We Just Assume for the Sake of Argument That Everyone Who Disagrees with Me is Hitler?

 

I’m sure Ricochet readers who know my work are surprised it has taken me this long to write something about the disinvitation push at UC Berkeley against comedian Bill Maher. After all, it’s one of the major topics in my latest short book, Freedom From Speech, and even the term “disinvitation season” was an internal FIRE term until this year. The truth is, I was waiting to hear back on an op-ed I’d written about Maher which fell through as the case developed.

But today, at the Huffington Post (I think it’s important not to just preach to the choir), I outline five major points that people should keep in mind even as UC Berkeley seems to be doing the right thing. But, one point I thought Ricochet readers would enjoy in particular, was my criticism of Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR for trying to shift the debate about Bill Maher over to a hypothetical about the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Here’s my take on that in full in the fifth point of my piece.

The NAACP Leads the Charge Against Free Speech

 

NaacplogoLast year, a pro-life blogger posted an essay at LifeNews with the title “NAACP: National Association for the Abortion of Colored People.” The author, Ryan Bomberger (an African-American) took the NAACP to task for its cozy relationship with Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups:

They’ll beat the drums of economic, social and environmental “justice” while over 360,000 black babies, annually, never get a chance at one of the few Constitutional rights that actually exist—the right to Life. . . .At a time when 72.3% of black children are born into homes without fathers and (in some places like Philadelphia) 50% of viable black pregnancies end in abortion one would think protecting future generations would become a national emergency for this historic organization.

How did the NAACP respond? They sued Bomberger’s organization, the Radiance Foundation, for trademark infringement because the essay’s title took the NAACP’s name in vain. The title, of course, was good old-fashioned parody, akin to calling the ACLU the “Anti-Christian Lawyers Union.”

My Statement Regarding the Abuse of Harassment Codes on Campus

 

Today I addressed the United States Commission on Civil Rights to talk about the role that federal law and regulations have played in encouraging campus speech codes. Here is my testimony:

If you had told me before I started working at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the leading defender of free speech rights on college campuses, that I would routinely battle the startling misapplications of harassment codes to punish speech that is clearly protected by the First Amendment, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.

Member Post

 

In light of recent attempts to delegitimize conservative speech — from the firing of Brandon Eich to the string of attacks on conservative commencement speakers and their subsequent withdrawals, did you ever fantasize about what you would like to say to those college grads if you got the chance? No need to do so any […]

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Harvard Gives the Devil More Than His Due

 

VeritasShieldTonight, Harvard University will host a “black mass” at Queens Head Pub, a space beneath Memorial Hall usually reserved for hangouts over pints of 1636 Ale. The Harvard Extension School’s “Cultural Studies Club” has decided to put on an “historical reenactment” of Satanic worship, purportedly only simulating the desecration of a consecrated host. It is unclear exactly what the “reenactment” involves, but, as a mockery of the Holy Mass, it is unavoidably an affront to Catholicism and every Catholic in the Harvard and Cambridge communities. If a consecrated host is used (and despite administrators’ assurances it will not be, it is difficult to say for sure), this would be an extremely grave and troubling event for Catholics anywhere. It would be, quite literally, a physical assault on Jesus Christ.

Despite the fact that the event comes precariously close to an horrific offense against God, it is hard to take these Harvard Satanists too seriously. The “Extension School” is just what is sounds like — an entity far from the heart of the Harvard community, originally designed to give locals around campus a chance to attend classes. It is absurd that a group of a few Extension School students have been allowed to represent “Harvard” as an institution here. Also, the event will feature a talk by Harvard Kennedy School lecturer (not professor), Christopher Robichaud. If you’re interested in writings by Robichaud, you’ll only find him published in volumes of Superheroes and Philosophy, Supervillains and Philosophy,  Superman and Philosophy, Batman and Philosophy, Iron Man and Philosophy, X-Men and Philosophy, and Game of Thrones and Philosophy. Comical indeed. Satanic worship may be the least of our worries when it comes to the Father of Lies, who is at his strongest when he tempts souls by an almost imperceptible influence, not by agents wearing spooky masks while they attempt to vivify gargoyles. 

St. Thomas More wrote that “the devil . . . the proud spirit . . . cannot endure to be mocked.” And G.K. Chesterton: “Satan fell by force of gravity, by taking himself too gravely.” Good reminders, since this is about Satanists being “recognized” as legitimate in the public square — and they deserve no such recognition by any decent society. That view may not sit well with the secular libertarian streak in today’s conservatism, let alone with liberalism’s devotion to multiculturalism for its own sake. But the fact that the First Amendment may permit certain activity (and we’re very close to courts recognizing Satanism as religion for free exercise purposes) does not legitimize that activity — it does not make it good or worthy of our respect and association. Just ask the NBA about why it banned Donald Sterling.

Misguided Priorities on First Amendment Fights

 

Yesterday, in Town of Greece v. Galloway, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court upheld ceremonial prayers at the start of a town’s board meetings, as noted in Adam’s earlier post. Two thoughts occurred to me while reading the decision.  

First, I continue to be impressed at how much effort both sides put into fighting over simple, symbolic signs of religion that do not come remotely close to running afoul of the Establishment Clause. It is hard to believe that the Town of Greece — or any of the many cities and states that have been sued over similar religious symbolism — is trying to found a mandatory state religion of the kind commonly seen in Europe.