One area that I feel very strongly about is free speech. In any truly democratic society, there will be voices on the fringe that may make one cringe. Obviously, hateful and hurtful racial slurs are to be denounced and the speaker castigated in the marketplace of public opinion. That does not mean, however, that the force of the law should intervene to punish that speaker. Let that person show their personal ignorance and the best “punishment” is to ignore that speaker. In this way, they slowly fade away although they usually pop up in 140 characters or less at some point later.
And one of the areas where there should be a free flow of ideas and free speech should be on college campuses, both public and private. The Supreme Court has ruled, in the context of affirmative action, that a diverse student body racially or ethnically enhances the higher educational experience. It is one thing to read about other cultures and quite another thing to live next door to someone whose culture is different from your’s. But by the same token, everyone should feel free to associate with whoever they want without being shunned or labeled.
If ethnic and racial diversity is desired in higher education and has the sanction of the Supreme Court, probably even more important is diversity in thought and viewpoints on any number of issues. Unfortunately, but predictably in typical Leftist hypocritical fashion, they do not place diversity of thought on the same pedestal of ethnic or racial diversity.
Two recent cases illustrate this point exactly. At Stanford University, the Stanford Anscombe Society was recently denied a $600 stipend to help support an upcoming conference on “Marriage, Family, and the Media.” The Society is dedicated to the belief that marriage should between one man and one woman; hence, it anti-gay marriage. They were initially granted the request, but after a protest by some students, the stipend was withdrawn. They appealed to the college’s Constitutional Council which denied the funds with this outrageous statement:
We do not feel compelled to follow the precedents set by the Supreme Court of the United States.
Before anyone gets upset, technically speaking they are correct. Supreme Court decisions from 1995 and 2000 decided that public colleges may not discriminate against student groups based on their viewpoints. The problem is that Stanford is a private university. Regardless, most private universities and colleges follow these precedents although under no dictate to do so. But, although Stanford’s Constitutional Council can technically get away with it under Supreme Court precedent, they cannot under California law.
In 1992, the state passed Leonard’s Law, named after the state legislator who wrote it. This law extended the right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment and backed by Supreme Court precedent in these cases to private colleges, universities and even high schools. California is the only state in the Nation with such a law directed at private colleges. And the Stanford Constitutional Council should know better since the university was enjoined from instituting a draconian speech code under the law.
The Stanford Council, the group in charge of the funding, later added insult to injury by requiring the Anscombe Society to pay $5,600 in security fees. The reason was that the scheduled conference was likely to make members of the campus LGBT community feel threatened. Because the Anscombe Society has the temerity to sponsor a conference on traditional marriage, they are being harassed through the power of the purse. In effect, the security fees expected and the denial of funding amount to a prior restraint on free speech.
While we can expect this type of thing from Leftist kooks in California, apparently Leftist lunacy knows no geographical bounds. Two cases from Boise State University in Idaho illustrate the point. Recently, the campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty were to sponsor a symposium on gun rights. Their scheduled speaker was Dick Heller of Heller vs. DC fame, the Supreme Court case that upheld Second Amendment rights. Just prior to the event, the group was handed a $500 bill for security. Unfortunately in this case, Boise State has refused to refund the security costs.
Boise State also came under recent fire for their treatment of an on-campus student pro-life group called Abolitionists4life. Here, the restraint on speech is broader than a security fee or rescinding of previously approved funding because “someone” was upset with the group’s message. Many colleges today have “free speech zones-” designated areas where literature can be passed out and protests held. While it is understandable that a college can institute some order to keep students free of harassing messengers, designating these areas to the fringes of the campus in small confined spaces does a huge to disservice to all groups- liberal and conservative.
What colleges today need is a four-pronged attack on these moronic actions. The first is legal. Wherever vague and ambiguous speech codes exist, wherever conservative groups are crapped on by university officials, they must be challenged legally. There are plenty of free speech advocacy groups willing to take up the cause and represent these groups in court. In the Heller incident at Boise State, even the liberal ACLU is intervening on behalf of the students. When university officials are inundated with civil law suits seeking compensatory damages for violations of constitutional rights, economics will force them to back off.
The second prong is legislative. Public universities have the backing of Supreme Court precedent on two explicit occasions. Private universities, like Stanford, can hide behind their “private” status. What the country needs and what all states need are laws like those in California which extend basic constitutional rights to private colleges. Can one imagine a Patrick Leahy in the Senate Judiciary Committee voting against free speech? We need a Republican with guts and balls to introduce such legislation. Where are you Rand Paul and Ted Cruz?
The third prong is example. There are plenty of private, conservative colleges out there. They should be shining beacons of how free speech works in this country and on our college campuses. Liberal student groups should be allowed the same freedoms we conservatives seek on the more numerous Leftist campuses. Private Catholic universities, for example, have been hotbeds of Leftist rhetoric on campus at times. Imagine the example one can set through the respectful attendance of an Al Franken at Liberty University or Nancy Pelosi at Hillsdale College. When Rand Paul addressed students in the lion’s den of Leftist campus culture- Berkeley- about 90% of the student body disagreed with his politics. Yet, 90% of the Leftist press and blogosphere begrudgingly showed him respect for actually showing up and speaking.
The final prong is civil disobedience. Conservative groups on campus need to deliberately break speech codes, deliberately distribute literature outside “free speech zones,” and deliberately invite conservative speakers to campus. The idea is to do so respectfully without going over the line and becoming incendiary. Obviously, you don’t go out and invite the local Ku Klux Klan leader to speak on campus. Most likely, this will draw the ire of Leftists on and off campus and will result in protests and attempts to shout down conservative voices. Let them show their parents and the banks and the lenders footing the bill for their education what they are supporting.
The best analogy is that between peaceful tea party protests and the Occupy Wall Street movement. The worst the liberal press could do was make fun of the Gadsden flag and funny hats worn by some tea party people. However, not a single police car was vandalized, not a single drug was ingested, not a single rape occurred, and there was no public defecation. Enough said. Conservatives have the higher moral ground as demonstrated by these protests. It is time to translate that morality into a guarantee of a basic, most fundamental constitutional right- that of free speech. The fact this even has to be discussed is a sad commentary on the state of higher education.
In response to comments, the university originally granted a $600 stipend, then rescinded it when certain students said the content of the speech did not reflect the sentiments of the Stanford community. Thus, it was clearly speech content related. Further, the security fee was dropped after certain organizations intervened on behalf of the students drawing negative attention to the case. Members of the Anscombe Society, being students, pay money into a fund for student activities. They are entitled to receipt of some of those funds for Society activities. Regarding Leonard Law, the commenter is selective and stops at the first section involving disciplinary action. Subjecting any campus organization to a draconian security fee- one they know they were not likely to afford- is prior restraint on speech which is NOT authorized by Leonard Law. And yes, funding or denying funding for student organizations- when rules are in place for disbursement of those funds- based on speech content violates the First Amendment.