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Censorship Is an ‘Unjustifiable Privilege’ by Chris Marchese

Free Speech Is about the Power to Challenge the Status Quo!

Free speech is the great equalizer in our society. It doesn’t matter about your race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, class — you get the point — the First Amendment protects your right to speak freely. Despite this, some student activists — perceiving unequal social conditions, including at institutions of higher education — are fighting for social change at the expense of free speech. The sad irony, however, is that free speech only becomes privileged when it’s restricted, which is why free speech must remain a right equally applicable to all.

To understand why, consider Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s commencement speech at Wellesley College in 2015. In it, she said, “You, because of your beautiful Wellesley degree, have become privileged, no matter your background.” But, she added, “Sometimes you will need to push [this privilege] aside in order to see clearly,” because “privilege blinds” you to those who are different.

Students calling for speech restrictions are particularly blinded by their privilege, which leaves them unable to see the unjust privilege that restricting speech would further confer upon them. This is dangerous and counterproductive to their cause.

Restricting Speech Is an Unjust Privilege

First, to support restrictions on certain kinds of speech, activists must have (or at least project) unwavering confidence in both themselves and the system in which they are operating — the university in this case — to discern what’s offensive. Even if they see gray areas in expression, they are forced to present issues in absolutist terms if they are to have the perceived moral authority to police and punish those who offend.

Turning again to Adichie’s speech, we can see why this is wrong. As she said, “I knew from … the class privilege I had of growing up in an educated family, that it sometimes blinded me, that I was not always as alert to the nuances of people who were different from me.”

Sometimes, people are genuinely racist (though what’s considered racist varies widely from place to place) and their speech is identifiable as such. But what about the student who isn’t aware of the offense he or she may cause by wearing a sombrero at a party, which some consider cultural appropriation? How about the student who is aware but disagrees that it’s offensive? Should he or she be censored and punished based upon some activists’ standards of right and wrong? Different people have different experiences and different views. Because of this, nuance matters.

Second, while it can be tempting to argue that free speech maintains inequality because it protects offensive speech, this argument fails to distinguish between people and their views. That is, when you censor people — even for offensive speech — you are denying them equal access to, and protection of, the First Amendment and you are doing so from a position of privilege.  The right to free speech gives everyone an equal right to voice his or her opinions — but it does not mean that such opinions will win or even register in any given forum.

Restrictions on free speech, on the other hand, make both people and ideas unequal by subjugating them to someone else’s understanding of what’s right and therefore allowable. Indeed, to assume one’s views are so infallible as to warrant imposition on others and to assume there is no legitimate debate left to be had on certain topics — and the language used in discussing those topics — is a privilege that oppresses not only the hated racist, but the honest dissenter and everyone in between.

Lastly, some students claim that free speech is about power — that it enables and sustains privilege for some but not all. Let’s be clear: free speech is about power. It’s about having the power to challenge the status quo, question society’s deeply held beliefs, and call others to task. But free speech only becomes privileged when it’s restricted.

Understanding the Would-Be Censors

Of course words can have consequences. (If they couldn’t, nobody would bother speaking.) It would be hypocritical to argue that offensive speech will never cause harm, at least to feelings or interests, while also maintaining that speech is so vital it requires robust protection. One could also argue that the marketplace of ideas — like all markets — has negative externalities. The most evident, as campus activists assert, is that offensive speech is protected and those it’s directed at — typically thought to be minorities — are disproportionately burdened by it.

Moreover, restricting or punishing speech provides instant gratification. It’s an immediate and swift response to views one finds abhorrent. It gives the impression that justice has been served. For those who believe society is stacked against them, it’s a small beacon of hope. Restricting speech, then, isn’t seen as infringing upon someone else’s liberty, but rather righting a wrong. The emotional appeal is understandably strong.

But this is not right.

A Just Alternative

The best way to counter hateful, offensive speech is with more speech. Think of it this way: restricting speech treats the symptoms of bigotry by making its manifestations less visible. Conversely, more speech acts as a cure by attacking the underlying disease. The former method may seem effective in the short term, but it’s dangerous in the long run.

As FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff has argued, when offensive speech is banned, it drives those with potentially dangerous views (however determined) underground, making them harder to identify, while also potentially making them more extreme. It also gives a false sense of social progress. And who ultimately pays the price? The people the bans were meant to help, when it turns out society wasn’t as friendly as they believed.

Countering hateful speech with more speech is not seamless. It’s hard work, and it’s not instant. It doesn’t guarantee the flushing of all bigoted and hateful opinions from society, and it often works slowly. Nevertheless, it is the only method that is both just and that makes progress last. Engaging with people who express views different from one’s own moves beyond the superficial to challenge core beliefs, assumptions, and biases — and can help a person identify and recognize his or her own. Consider the case of Megan and Grace Phelps, granddaughters of the pastor who founded the Westboro Baptist Church. After interacting with a Jewish man by email and on Twitter, the sisters decided their views were wrong and decided to leave the WBC, which also meant being excommunicated by their family.

The marketplace of ideas won’t always work this way, and not everyone is destined to see the light. But restricting speech is a privileged response that neither makes society more equal nor has any tangible benefit other than providing a false sense of justice, which, in the long term, only fuels underlying problems. We cannot afford to be blind to this reality.

None of this should be construed as a plea to accept the status quo or to disengage. Rather, it’s a call for college students who support restricting speech to recognize their own privilege. Education is a gift, and college students should use the privilege it confers to advocate for change. But this means realizing free speech is not the enemy of progress, and that restricting it will not make society more equal. To do otherwise — to restrict and punish speech — is to be so willfully blind to privilege as to become the oppressors.

This article first appeared at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Chris Marchese

Chris Marchese is a communications assistant at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Does the Islamic State have the Right to Recruit on U.S. College Campuses?

A Tennessee lawmaker proposed the Islamic State be granted the right to recruit on campus during a debate on a new law to defend free speech on campus.

Representative Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville) was speaking in favor of the “Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act” (which he sponsored) when he was asked by Rep John DeBerry, Jr. (D-Memphis) whether he supported the right of ISIS to recruit on campus.

“Yes,” Daniel replied. “So long as it doesn’t disrupt the proceedings on that campus. Yes sir. They can recruit people for any other organization or any other cause. I think it’s just part of being exposed to differing viewpoints.”

Representative Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville)

Representative Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville)

DeBerry challenged Daniel, arguing that students are not ready to handle such dangerous ideas.

“There are young people who are not ready yet,” he said “they’re half-baked, half-cooked — who are recruited to work against their own parents, their own nation, and I would be concerned as a parent and as a citizen.”

The bill was brought forward to challenge a wave of restrictions on free speech which have come into being on campuses across America and which are the subject of much controversy in the media.

Free-speech advocates hold that free speech is only meaningful if it applies to one’s political enemies as well as one’s friends.

This is not to downplay the problem of Islamist extremism. It is vitally important to challenge the Islamist ideology wherever possible and act to prevent radicalization. Yet free speech is one of the cornerstones of a flourishing democracy. To give it up in order to combat Islamism – an ideology that wishes to dismantle our way of life – would be to forget what we are fighting for.

Daniel’s stance that even ISIS should be allowed to speak may be in breach of existing laws, which prohibit incitement to violence, although such laws are very tightly defined. Since ISIS is a group which carries out violent attacks against Americans around the world, it can be considered to be a security risk to allow it to openly recruit on college campuses.

Nevertheless, the ideology of Islamism is shared by ISIS and non-violent groups such as Hizb-ut Tahrir or the Muslim Brotherhood. They too wish to establish a global Islamic caliphate and implement sharia law as state law, they just don’t support the use of violent means to do so.

Those people must be allowed to speak.

Clarion Project has opposed blasphemy codes that prevent criticism of religion and we have supported the campaign to free the blogger Raif Badawi who is a prisoner of conscience in Saudi Arabia. But we have also interviewed UK-based Islamist Anjem Choudary, in order to show our readers the truth about Islamism. For the same reason we provide our readers with an opportunity to read the Islamic State’s propaganda magazine Dabiq on our website.

In denying free speech to Islamists, we would not only betray our own values, but also undermine our struggle.  Preventing Islamists from speaking would allow them to claim the mantle of victimhood, while preventing those who are attracted to the ideology from accessing all the counter-arguments against it. We also open ourselves up to accusations of hypocrisy, which would be deserved.

It is only in allowing them to air their views and robustly countering them, in speech, in print, in media and in debates, that the Islamist ideology will be shown up for the regressive and totalitarian worldview that it is and confined to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

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Why Florida needs to legalize concealed carry on campus: A rape survivor’s compelling argument

The Florida legislature is considering bills in both houses to allow students with a concealed carry permit to bring their gun on campus. Educators have a responsibility to keep their students safe while on campus. Students currently give up their unalienable rights to defend themselves while on a school campus. Making college and K-12 school campuses gun free zones puts safety on the back burner and self defense impossible.

In November 2014 three Florida State University students were shot on campus by a lone gunman. One of the wounded students was a military veteran and holder of a Florida concealed carry permit. He was unarmed because current Florida law prevented him from carrying while on campus.

The following are excerpts from an op-ed by Amanda Collins titled “Counterpoint: A rape survivor argues why we need guns on campus.” Amanda writes:

Across the country, legislators are debating the right of law-abiding concealed carry permit holders to legally carry firearms onto university campuses.

Just the other day, I was asked “Why do you need a firearm on campus? What’s so threatening about becoming educated?” Here’s my answer: Eight years ago, during my junior year at the University of Nevada-Reno, I was raped in the parking garage only feet away from the campus police office.

As this stranger raped me while holding a pistol to my temple, I could see the police cruisers parked for the night, and I knew no one was coming to help me. Eventually the man who raped me, James Biela, was caught. He was tried and convicted for not only raping me at gun point in a gun-free zone, but also raping two other women and murdering Brianna Denison. So, I ask, “How does rendering me defenseless protect you against a violent crime?”
At the time of my attack, I had obtained my Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) permit for the personal choice of not wanting to be a defenseless target. In Nevada, permit holders are not allowed to carry firearms on campuses. As a law-abiding citizen, I left my firearm at home, which means that the law that is meant to ensure my safety only guaranteed the criminal an unmatched victim.

I still wonder what would have been different if I’d been carrying my weapon that night. But here’s the truth: Had I been carrying my firearm, I would have been able to stop the attack. Not only that, but two other rapes would have been prevented and three young lives would have been saved, including my own.

Any survivor of rape can understand that the young woman I was walking into the parking garage that night was not the same woman who left. My life has never been the same after my attack. Legalized campus carry would have saved my family, who happens to be the collateral damage in my story, and me a great deal of untold torment.

My case is a perfect example that despite law enforcement’s best efforts to ensure our safety, they are unable to be everywhere at once. All I wanted was a chance to effectively defend myself. The choice to participate in one’s own defense should be left to the individual. That choice should not be mandated by the government. As a law-abiding citizen, I should not have to hand over my safety to a third party. Laws that prohibit campus carry turn women like me into victims by stripping away our Second Amendment rights.

Unfortunately, legislators opposed to campus carry are more intimidated by law-abiding citizens like me sitting in class with a legal firearm, than the rapist waiting for me in the parking garage. Most people are unaware that one in four women will be raped while attending college and one-third of them occur on the campus they attend.

Read more.

EDITORS NOTE: Amanda Collins’ op-ed is a response submitted through the National Rifle Association to a Feb. 24 column, “More Guns on campus is not the answer to sexual assault,” by Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a Michael Bloomberg funded anti-gun organization.

The Future of Judaism and Islam on America’s Campuses?

After doing a program last Sunday with chaver Dr. Charles Jacobs of Americans for Peace and Tolerance on Lisa Benson’s National Security Matters program about Jewish Myopia towards Islam, I was forwarded this notification by a noted theologian, scholar, author, former university president and ordained Conservative rabbi, Dr. Richard L. Rubenstein. Dr. Rubenstein is the author of many important works, one among them is Jihad and Genocide.

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO OF THE PROGRAM BY CLICKING HERE.

Having written about the dangers of Jewish Muslim Dialogue and the banal cupidity of Jewish communal leadership and in this instance the faculty of the JTS regarding this and other similar events on college campus with Jewish students threatened by Muslim Student Associations, I find this program naive and dangerous. It is no wonder that most Jews are ill informed about the underlying Qur’anic doctrine of hatred towards Christians, Jews and other unbelievers. Why Chancellor Eisen, Professor Visotzky support such dialogues is appalling, as they neither educate or inform Jewish and non-Jewish audiences of the realities of why Islamic anti-Semitism exists on college campuses and in the West generally. As Dr. Jacobs cogently argued in response to a caller:

The “J” Streeters and the left again want us to think that we Jews have done it to ourselves. It is our behavior that has made the Muslims hate us. That is a very empowering thought because if it’s true, if you could make yourself believe it was true, then you could change the reality. You could just simply change your behavior and the hatred would go away. Unfortunately Islam is a religion, a political and an economic system. In it there is a demand for worldwide supremacy. When Islam conquers the land, the people on the land have a choice. If they are Jews or Christians, they can choose not to be killed if they accept the status of dhimmitude.

Being a dhimmi is lower than second class status where you may not have political independence. You may not have freedom. You are subjugated. However, if you allow yourself to be subjugated and you follow their rules you can still be a Jew or a Christian. Now if you don’t, however, if you rebel against that, then the entire theological house of Islam with sword behind it comes after you and that is what happened with Israel. Israel is a rebellious dhimmi state. The Jews were never supposed to have self-rule just like the Christians. South Sudan came about as a Christian state after having defeated a Jihad against it so too the Jews.

The Jews and the Christians in the Middle East are not allowed to have self-rule. A theological Israel is a theological catastrophe for Islam. It is not a border war. If it was that, then, if it were, you could make concessions and you could make compromises with two people living in peace.

Unfortunately that’s not the case.

The Future of Judaism and Islam on America’s Campuses
Tuesday, February 18, 2014 7:30 p.m.
Questions? Contact Burton L. Visotzky

The Jewish Theological Seminary’s Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue (JTS) and the Russell Berrie Foundation, are co-sponsoring the “Annual Pope John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Understanding” at JTS this coming February 18, 2014. It will be a panel to address “The Future of Judaism and Islam on America’s Campuses.”

Two issues equally affect Jews and Muslims as they approach campus life. The first is retaining religious identity in the face of the assimilative forces on America’s university campuses. Jews and Muslims can learn from one another about how to form uniquely American religious identities that will serve them into adulthood and communal responsibility. The second issue is potentially more fractious, for it concerns the things that divide the two religious bodies, particularly over Israel and Palestine.

Join Imam Abdullah Antepli (Duke), Prof. Mehnaz Afridi (Manhattan College) and Rabbi Gail Swedroe (Univ. of Florida) as they engage one another in a lively dialogue on these timely topics. The evening will be moderated by JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen, (former chair of Jewish Studies at Stanford University).

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.