Phi Beta Cons

The Inexcusable Act of Upholding the Constitution

It’s heartwarming to see students, faculty, administrators, and activists come together — working cooperatively and in harmony for a common purpose. Such diverse interests, diverse life experiences, and diverse personalities; yet these differences are set aside when a common threat emerges. And what is that threat?

Pro-life speech. More specifically, a student-government president who refuses to censor pro-life speech.

Late last week, ADF Center for Academic Freedom attorneys issued a cease-and-desist letter in a remarkable case involving Sacramento City College. The story begins, ironically enough, with a request by the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) to set up a pro-life display on Constitution Day. The request was forwarded by student-government president Steve Macias to the rest of the student representatives, who voted to allow it (several representatives later claimed that they didn’t know what GAP was — apparently forgetting all about newfangled websites like Google). When GAP erected its rather graphic display, members of the campus community reacted with fury. The student-government adviser and at least one member of the administration demanded that Macias have the display removed. Macias refused, rightly noting that doing so would violate GAP’s First Amendment rights.

Macias’s refusal to censor triggered a rather dramatic response. The adviser banned Macias from attending a national leadership conference, and the Queer-Straight Alliance (a campus group) and Equality California immediately launched a recall campaign. Although the recall effort violated virtually every material regulation governing recall elections, the administration not only allowed it to happen; they participated in the process. The recall was scheduled without any notice to Macias, and — even before the recall results were known — the student government unlawfully voted to suspend Macias from his duties.  

My friend (and FIRE president) Greg Lukianoff often talks about how students are in the process of “unlearning liberty.” (Greg, you really should write a book about that.) This case is a prime example of that phenomenon — where students have learned quite well the lesson taught by the academic generation that brought us speech codes, speech zones, and “civility” policies. What is that lesson? That we have a right not to be offended, and when we are offended, someone must suffer the consequences.  

Steve Macias is suffering those consequences right now — at least until the college remembers that academic fashions and trends have as of yet left the First Amendment untouched.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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