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Free Speech? Not on Campus
CATO ^ | October 28, 2003 | David E. Bernstein

Posted on 10/28/2003 9:42:21 AM PST by antiRepublicrat

David E. Bernstein, a professor of law at George Mason University, is the author of "You Can't Say That! The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws" (Cato Institute, 2003).

Is it a no-no for students to satirize affirmative action at the University of California-Irvine? The answer is a resounding "Yes!" Last week, the university administration shut down an "affirmative action bake sale" run by the College Republicans. Members of the group offered students donuts at prices ranging from ten cents to one dollar, depending on each student's race and gender. The obvious message: It's wrong to treat people differently based on immutable characteristics. But apparently you can't say that in public.

Dean of Students Sally Peterson was neither amused nor enlightened. Responding to complaints from Asian and Hispanic student groups, she ordered the bake sale organizers to take down their price list, and to stop selling the donuts at varying prices. Peterson told the organizers that the bake sale violated the university's nondiscrimination policy. In other words, in Irvine free speech and the First Amendment take a back seat to so-called nondiscrimination rules.

The students involved attempted to strike a compromise: They would sell the donuts at one price, but would post a sign listed "suggested retail prices" that differed by race and gender. Peterson wouldn't buy that either, and forced the students to completely shut down their bake sale.

The absurdity of Peterson's position is clear. The purpose of the bake sale was to make a political point, not to engage in discrimination. The bake sale organizers were engaging in a clever bit of street theater; so clever, in fact, that it led some student groups opposed to the event's message to persuade Peterson to use a wooden and foolish interpretation of a nondiscrimination policy to shut it down.

Unfortunately, the public universities in California have a history of stifling dissent on racial matters, and of kowtowing to student interest groups that claim to be offended by their fellow students' speech. A few years back, UCLA suspended an editor of the student newspaper for running an editorial cartoon ridiculing affirmative action preferences. In the cartoon, a student asks a rooster on campus how it got into UCLA. The rooster responds, "affirmative action." After the editor was sanctioned by UCLA, a student editor reproduced the cartoon in the California State University-Northridge student newspaper and criticized UCLA officials for suspending the paper's editor for engaging in constitutionally protected expression. Northridge officials suspended the student from his editorial position for two weeks for publishing controversial material "without permission." The school removed the suspension from his transcript under threat of a lawsuit.

In another incident, the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity at the University of California-Riverside was punished for distributing a t-shirt advertising a "South of the Border" party. The shirt featured a figure wearing a serape and sombrero sitting on a beach looking at the setting sun and holding a bottle of tequila, along with a picture of a set of steel drums and a wooden tiki head, in which was carved the word "Jamaica." The bottom of the shirt depicted a smiling Rastafarian carrying a six-pack of beer while standing in a Mexican cantina frequented by Riverside students, humming a lyric from an antiracist song by Bob Marley: "It doesn't matter where you come from long as you know where you are going."

Campus Latino activists charged that the shirt "dehumanizes and promotes racist views of Mexican people," and they formally accused the fraternity of violating university rules by circulating "offensive racial stereotypes." Ultimately, the university required fraternity members to destroy all of the t-shirts, apologize in writing, engage in community service, and attend two seminars on multiculturalism-an ironic punishment given that despite the fact that almost half the fraternity members were themselves minorities. The university also stripped the fraternity of its charter and expelled it from campus for three years. The university eventually lifted all of the sanctions, but only after the fraternity threatened a First Amendment lawsuit.

Most recently, California Polytechnic State University student Steve Hinkle, who is white, was punished for posting in a campus multicultural center a flyer that promoted a speech by Mason Weaver, an African American author who argues that dependence on government programs is a new form of black slavery. A meeting of black students was just concluding as Hinkle quietly posted his flyer, and several of them told Hinkle that they found the flyer offensive, and asked him to leave and take the flyer with him. He declined to do so, and was charged and convicted by a university judicial body of "obstruction or disruption" of a campus function. Hinkle has since filed a lawsuit alleging that the university violated his First Amendment rights.

Universities are supposed to be bastions of free and open debate, and public universities, in particular, have a First Amendment obligation to respect freedom of expression. Unfortunately, it often turns out that it takes a lawsuit to get California university officials to fulfill that obligation.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: academia; affirmativeaction; bakesale; campus; cato; collegebias; collegerepublicans; discrimination; education; freespeech; university
And here I though political speech is the most protected form of speech. Guess not, at least not if you're conservative.

Does anyone else notice a theme here? They suppress speech, get the damage done, and later back-off when a lawsuit is threatened. That way they don't get any bad legal precedent protecting free speech.

1 posted on 10/28/2003 9:42:34 AM PST by antiRepublicrat
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To: antiRepublicrat
They suppress speech, get the damage done, and later back-off when a lawsuit is threatened.

You conservatives are such lame-brains...Any serious study of the Founding Fathers reveals that the first Amendment is not about protecting "political" speech, it's about protecting pornography...Sheesh....


Freerepublic Rule 768: Always include the </sarcasm> tag no matter how obvious the sarcasm is. For some is never obvious enough!

2 posted on 10/28/2003 9:49:39 AM PST by Onelifetogive
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To: antiRepublicrat
Where's Justice Souter? You know, the white guy who made up "symbolic speech" as being supreme over other laws like theft or zoning laws.

I guess it only works for liberal establishment and their subservients.
3 posted on 10/28/2003 9:55:06 AM PST by saveliberty (Liberal= in need of therapy, but would rather ruin lives of those less fortunate to feel good)
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To: antiRepublicrat
These cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Most faculty and students learn pretty quickly what's safe to say and what's not, so a lot of speech is "chilled," as the liberals say, before it even comes out of their mouths.

Also, probably the most basic issue of academic freedom today is the habit of quietly denying tenure, or never hiring in the first place, anybody who doesn't toe the whole liberal line. These deans and committees feel free to act as they do because the whole administration and faculty are likely to agree with them, with a few exceptions who will probably zip their lips. Most universities are growing more and more monolithically liberal every year.
4 posted on 10/28/2003 9:57:39 AM PST by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: saveliberty
Where's Justice Souter? You know, the white guy who made up "symbolic speech" as being supreme over other laws like theft or zoning laws.

That's why they back down in the threat of lawsuits. Don't want a judicial decision protecting freedom of speech on campus, do we? These conservatives need to walk straight from the bake sale to the courthouse to file a 1st Amendment lawsuit. Force the issue or the abuses will keep happening.

5 posted on 10/28/2003 10:24:40 AM PST by antiRepublicrat
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To: antiRepublicrat
Stunning. Even for CA, this is amazing.

Once again, liberals are thorough hypocrites. "We firmly support and encourage Diversity... but not of opinion, wealth, income, intelligence, performance, grades, test scores, city planning, state laws, political ideology, or gender/parenting roles!"

6 posted on 10/28/2003 10:45:42 AM PST by Teacher317
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To: antiRepublicrat
Sadly, freedom of expression on most university campuses is a one way street. You're free to listen to leftist indoctrination and silly sensitivity programming, but you are not free to disagree, voice dissent, or raise a counterpoint.
7 posted on 10/28/2003 11:06:37 AM PST by tdadams
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To: Cicero
Most universities are growing more and more monolithically liberal every year.
The irony being that liberalism is the facile and superficial analysis of any given problem.
You hungry? Just eat the seed corn.
You poor? Just print more money.
You sick? Just pass a law saying you have to be cured.
You scared? Just pass a law saying you have to be safe.

8 posted on 10/28/2003 11:18:38 AM PST by conservatism_IS_compassion (The everyday blessings of God are great--they just don't make "good copy.")
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To: Teacher317
It amazes me how daring they've gotten. Before, they just shut down bake sales ostensibly to stop the possibility of imminent violence from those who would be offended. Now they just come straight out and say "We don't like your political expression, so you're out."
9 posted on 10/28/2003 11:38:39 AM PST by antiRepublicrat
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To: Black Agnes; rmlew; cardinal4; LiteKeeper; Lizard_King; Sir_Ed; TLBSHOW; BigRedQuark; yendu bwam; ..
Leftism on Campus ping!

If you would like to be added to the Leftism on Campus ping list, please
notify me via FReep-mail.

Warning: During the school year in particular, this can be a high volume ping list.

10 posted on 10/31/2003 9:24:36 PM PST by Hobsonphile (Art should celebrate God's creation. Writers should love humanity in all its forms.)
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