Defend free speech — even when it offends you

Being a principled defender of free speech is never easy. And today’s assaults on the right to the unencumbered exchange of ideas make the mission particularly grueling.

In both the past and present, a sizable portion of the political right has insisted that the First Amendment shouldn’t be used as a shield for things like flag burning, protests against police brutality, and pornography. Similarly, many on the left insist the Constitution doesn’t protect things like amorphously defined “hate speech,” paid political advocacy, and … pornography.

Now, the culture on many college campuses — sometimes encouraged by professors — deems violent shutdowns of controversial speakers to be a form of free speech. But this only works under the logic that the loudest voice is the victor in the competition of ideas.

That mob rule should be embraced by those claiming to represent the most vulnerable voices is disconcerting, and fails on a basic level to understand how the protection of unpopular, controversial, and subjectively offensive speech is the same protection that allows marginalized groups to fight against the tyranny of both government and the social majority.

The idea that the First Amendment only protects from the incursion on free expression by the government is held by many, but it is wrong. Protest is free speech, but there is a line where it becomes an unconstitutional violation of another person’s right to free expression.

That’s why the recent policy imposed by the Board of Regents at the University of Wisconsin to confront the “heckler’s veto” creates such a conundrum. Ostensibly an affirmation of UW’s “commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression, and expectations for those who violate these freedoms,” the policy creates new sanctions for students who cross the line from dissent to abridging others’ ability to express themselves.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics

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