Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Should Hate Speech Be Permitted on the College Campus?

Should "academic freedom" include hate speech?  Should hate speech be permitted on the college campus?  Should a college department co-sponsor hate speech?  Can hate speech be a "contribution to the intellectual life of the campus" and part of "the open and free exchange of ideas"?

Two views:

Judith Butler is unequivocal.  In her remarks at Brooklyn College she says:
“If BDS is hate speech, then it is surely not protected speech, and it would surely not be appropriate for any institution of higher learning to sponsor or make room for such speech.”
“So in the first case [BDS as hate speech], it is not a viewpoint (and so not protected as extra-mural speech),”
Butler excludes hate speech from not only from college sponsorship, but even from use of the college facilities.

On the other hand, Abe Foxman of ADL, in a paid advertisement on the New York Times Op-Ed page, insists "even hate-filled voices have a right to be heard." Foxman does not object to a student group hosting BDS, but rather to the Political Science Department adding its co-sponsorship. Foxman objects to sponsorship "because it inherently creates the perception that the views expressed at the event are endorsed by the sponsor." Sponsorship gives the event "an added degree of legitimacy and credibility that is unwarranted."  So, Foxman offers a resolution:
First, students have a right to invite whom they want. Second, officials of the university, however, should not lend the good name of the university to such hate by sponsoring or giving its seal of approval to such appearances.

And third, when students invite hateful speakers— which they have the right to do—university presidents would do well to use their bully pulpits to reject those messages of hate and anti-Semitism.
Both agree the college should not endorse hate speech. Butler would even exclude a student group from using college facilities for a hate event, whereas Foxman would permit it.

Of course, this doesn't resolve the question of how to identify hate speech. That is for next time.


  1. I'm with Foxman on this one.

    Aaron Sorkin, writer of THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT, wrote a great speech for Andrew Shepherd (played by Michael Douglas)and the words have just stayed with me:

    “Everybody knows American isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating, at the top of his lungs, that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free, then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest." Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”

    Short of shouting "FIRE" or the active, riotous equivalent thereof, everyone has the right to assemble and make their views known. Its the only way to protect our own rights. Otherwise, it can be turned against us, too.


  2. Hear, hear! But then we have the right to expect the proponent of "difficult" views to present evidence to support their view, not just demand the right to espouse them. And to have to face those who disagree, and who are prepared to present their evidence in refutation. Neither group should be allowed the right and certainly not the ability to silence those who disagree with them, subject to espousing outright calls for violence (see John Stuart Mill on free speech), libel or the agreed one of shouting fire in a crowded theatre when there isn't a fire.

  3. Brian -

    Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog. I am familiar with your writing and comments at other site. I am honored to have you consider my thoughts.



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