Sunday, October 4, 2015

Free speech today [Updated]

Many people — especially people at colleges and universities — have come to believe they have a right not to be offended.  The only explanation for this oversensitivity is the complete misunderstanding of the First Amendment.  (Click here for a First Amendment primer.)  This is particularly obvious when someone claims that another person’s speech isn’t free speech, but offensive speech.  Of course, the First Amendment protects offensive speech.  And, as a practical matter, if the speech weren’t offensive, it probably wouldn’t need constitutional protection in the first place.  The most recent incident of this came when a college newspaper published an op-ed questioning whether the tactics of a particular political movement were really effective.  What followed after the publication of the “controversial” essay was predictable: offense was taken; outrage was expressed; punishment was demanded; apologies were issued; and, likely, the college newspaper has learned not to publish any articles that express a contrarian viewpoint or question today’s politically correct stances.  But how did we become such a bunch of spineless, mealy-mouthed worms who insist that free speech has to take a backseat to our imagined right not to be offended?  Ken White at Popehat explains how this happened in his post titled “Safe Spaces” and the Mote in America’s Eye.  The post is also filled with links to numerous other posts, essays, and related works — a must read for anyone interested in the current state of free speech.  In sum, there is a real risk that the First Amendment, at least in some settings, will soon go the way of the Fourth Amendment — so enjoy this constitutional right while it lasts.  [UPDATE: Richard Dawkins on free speech on campuses, here.]