The Corner

Education

The Nonexistent ‘Right’ to Disrupt Free Speech on Campus

It’s bad enough that social-justice-warrior types on campus prevent or disrupt talks by speakers they dislike, but worse still that they claim to have a “right” to do so. They say that what they call “hate speech” (i.e., any idea that clashes with their “progressive” orthodoxy) is not protected by the First Amendment and that they are entitled to prevent it from “harming” sensitive listeners. No doubt we will have more anti-speech actions this year and the leftists will keep asserting their arguments about “hate speech.”

The problem is that their First Amendment assertion is flat-out wrong. In my latest Martin Center article, I write about the battle over campus free speech.

First of all, there is no “hate speech” exception in the First Amendment. The Founders wisely did not want the government to get involved with restrictions on speech or the press at all. They realized that if any exceptions were made, they would be exploited by Americans who would rather have government censor or punish ideas they don’t like than make their own arguments. But there is a disturbingly widespread notion among students and administrators that there is no First Amendment protection for “hate speech.” That just ain’t so.

Second, some of the SJW types say that because the First Amendment only applies to the government (true enough), they are free to block speech they call “hateful.” That is just as mistaken, however. Colleges get to set the rules for proper conduct and nearly all have rules against disruption of speakers. They are entitled to make and enforce those rules, as Claremont recently did with some of the students who engaged in the protest that kept Heather Mac Donald from giving a planned address there.

I’ll give Mac Donald the last word here:

The great accomplishment of the European enlightenment was to require all forms of authority to justify themselves through rational argument, rather than through coercion or an unadorned appeal to tradition. The resort to brute force in the face of disagreement is particularly disturbing in a university, which should provide a model of civil discourse.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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