Politics & Policy

Student Protesters: Defending the First Amendment Is ‘Violent’

(Photo: Daniel Villeneuve/Dreamstime)
Do they understand that they’re asking for the government to police our speech?

A group of students at Western Washington University used their own right to free speech to disrupt a pro–free-speech lecture — calling the idea of complete free speech “violent” — and apparently, they don’t understand the irony.

According to an article in the school’s official student newspaper, the Western Front, Professor Jonathan Zimmerman was about to begin his “Censorship and Free Speech in the Age of Trump” lecture when he was disrupted by a group of students carrying signs reading “Advocating for the right to racist, sexist and transphobic speech is violent” and “Your safe space is violent.”

Now, at first glance, the messages on these signs might seem perfectly reasonable — or even kind. What decent person, after all, would defend sexist, racist, or transphobic speech? I certainly wouldn’t. Here’s the thing, though: These signs aren’t slamming those who advocate for hateful speech, they’re slamming those who advocate “the right” to this kind of speech. In other words: They’re slamming those who defend the First Amendment.

The First Amendment protects all kinds of speech. Yes, even hate speech, and it should. Why? Well, because if it didn’t, then the government would have the power to decide what did and did not qualify as “hate speech” — and the corresponding power to silence any speech that it deemed unacceptable.

It’s tempting to think that laws that would silence only, say, “sexist” speech would be good for society, but it becomes a lot more complicated when you consider how subjective the term “sexist” can be. In recent years, we’ve seen people in the social-justice crowd declare everything from hating pumpkin-spice lattes to the word “too” to be “sexist.” Of course, those student protesters might agree with some of that leftist ideology, but there’s a zero percent chance that they’d agree with everyone’s idea of sexism.

Think about it: There’s an entire Men’s Rights movement out there right now that believes society is sexist against men. If there were a law against “sexist” speech, anyone in power who subscribed to the Men’s Rights platform could easily use it to disallow statements as innocuous as “It’s harder to be a woman than a man,” or even a joke like “Men are pigs.” You don’t have to think about this very hard to realize that speech laws are not something that we want in this country.

You don’t have to think about this very hard to realize that speech laws are not something that we want in this country.

The most puzzling thing about all of this is: If you were to ask these student protesters, they’d probably say that they don’t want Donald Trump and the Republican-majority Congress to have the power to limit what they can and cannot say — and yet, that’s exactly what the words on their signs are demanding. I’d really encourage them to rethink it. It’s certainly admirable to use your voice to speak out against hateful speech, but calling for the government to silence it is taking the risk that one day you’ll be silenced, too.

READ MORE:

College Employs ‘Safe Space Marshals’ to Patrol Speeches for Offensive Content

UC Student Op-Ed: America Must ‘Reevaluate Free Speech’

Students Crash College Republicans’ Meeting, Claim ‘Fascists’ Don’t Have ‘Right of Free Speech’

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.

Most Popular

White House

There’s No Fix for Trump’s Bad Tweets

Whether social media have been good or bad for society is an open question. Whether social media have been good or bad for President Trump isn’t as difficult to discern. For even the most sober-minded and introspective figures, Twitter can serve as a dangerous temptation. For a man as capricious and mercurial ... Read More
White House

There’s No Fix for Trump’s Bad Tweets

Whether social media have been good or bad for society is an open question. Whether social media have been good or bad for President Trump isn’t as difficult to discern. For even the most sober-minded and introspective figures, Twitter can serve as a dangerous temptation. For a man as capricious and mercurial ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Five Thoughts on the George Floyd Story

After a night of riots, looting, and arson in Minneapolis to protest the police killing of George Floyd, five thoughts spring to mind: One: It is always hazardous to draw sweeping conclusions about society from individual criminal cases. Every individual case involves individual facts, and those facts often ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Five Thoughts on the George Floyd Story

After a night of riots, looting, and arson in Minneapolis to protest the police killing of George Floyd, five thoughts spring to mind: One: It is always hazardous to draw sweeping conclusions about society from individual criminal cases. Every individual case involves individual facts, and those facts often ... Read More
Economy & Business

Boiling Over

Andrew Ross Sorkin’s frustration over having missed so much of the post-COVID realities in markets and economic life boiled over this morning in one of the more outrageous outbursts I have ever witnessed on financial media. Perhaps this outburst was rivaled only by his behavior during the March COVID market ... Read More
Economy & Business

Boiling Over

Andrew Ross Sorkin’s frustration over having missed so much of the post-COVID realities in markets and economic life boiled over this morning in one of the more outrageous outbursts I have ever witnessed on financial media. Perhaps this outburst was rivaled only by his behavior during the March COVID market ... Read More
Economy & Business

The Spread of the Debt Virus

The current U.S. budget deficit could soon exceed a record $4 trillion. The massive borrowing is being driven both by prior budget profligacy and by a hurried effort by the Donald Trump administration to pump liquidity into a quarantined America. The shutdown has left the country on the cusp of a ... Read More
Economy & Business

The Spread of the Debt Virus

The current U.S. budget deficit could soon exceed a record $4 trillion. The massive borrowing is being driven both by prior budget profligacy and by a hurried effort by the Donald Trump administration to pump liquidity into a quarantined America. The shutdown has left the country on the cusp of a ... Read More

The Need to Discuss Black-on-Black Crime

Thomas Abt’s book Bleeding Out (2019) has garnered a fair amount of attention for its proposals to deal with gun violence in mainly black urban neighborhoods. The entire focus of the book is on interventions in high-crime locations to stem the violence, including: hot-spots policing, working with young males at ... Read More

The Need to Discuss Black-on-Black Crime

Thomas Abt’s book Bleeding Out (2019) has garnered a fair amount of attention for its proposals to deal with gun violence in mainly black urban neighborhoods. The entire focus of the book is on interventions in high-crime locations to stem the violence, including: hot-spots policing, working with young males at ... Read More