In recent months we have had some high-profile cases of free speech and its consequences. They are compelling cases of just how Americans interpret the First Amendment and how reactionary speech has become somehow second class expression. We’d all be wise to realize free speech is a right belonging to everyone.
1. Trinity College’s bigoted professor lets loose. University and colleges are often a hotbed of debate about free speech and “academic freedom.” Unfortunately, academic freedom is interpreted as a professorial right to say anything with impunity.
In the wake of the Virginia shooting of members of Congress and staff, Professor Johnny Eric Williams’ disgusting, racist screed included social media posts, “It is past time for the racially oppressed to do what people who believe themselves to be ‘white’ will not do, put end to the vectors of their destructive mythology of whiteness and their white supremacy system. #LetThemF–ingDie,” Williams said June 18 in a series of Facebook posts. “The time is now to confront these inhuman assholes and end this now.”
Trinity saw it necessary to close the campus Wednesday following an uproar over Williams. It has since reopened.
Trinity officials are “investigating” the situation. What’s to investigate? Williams tells the Hartford Courant, “This is about free speech as well as academic freedom,” he said. “From my perspective, I’m considering whether I should file a defamation against these guys.” File away, bigot.
Williams has a fundamental misunderstanding about free speech and academic freedom. No one—not the school, not the government—stopped Williams from posting what he thinks. He is free to say anything he wants (excepting for the “fire in a crowded theater” example). He can call for the end of a particular race if he wants.
What he does not have a right to is speech with impunity, expression without response or communication without consequence.
Trinity is free to respond to Williams’ speech as it sees fit. It can choose not to be associated with him. It can reply, distancing the storied institution from the professor’s hate speech or it can fire him pursuant to contractual obligations.
Taking it a step further, prospective students and their parents or families can consider Williams’ speech and the school’s response to it when deciding whether to pour tens of thousands of dollars into Trinity to attend the college.
2. Harvard action leaves stupid students crimson-faced. A second controversial case at a renowned institution of higher learning is playing out at Harvard. The university yanked acceptance from at least 10 students who posted nasty, racist or sexist entries in a Facebook messaging group. The would-be Crimson joked about sexual assault, the Holocaust, deaths of children, and certain ethnic or racial groups.
An uproar ensued as some defended the students’ free speech rights or argued that the withdrawing of admission to Harvard is too harsh.
Again, Harvard is free to respond to free speech as it chooses. The University has a vested (world’s largest endowment) interest in creating a community that values diversity, civil discourse and inclusion. If school officials decide admitting students with such poor judgment runs counter to its mission, it should grant admission to better qualified students.
3. Unfunny Kathy Griffin gets unfunnier (if that’s possible). Comedian Kathy Griffin—who I for one, think is among the unfunniest people on the plant—got herself in hot water by pretending to hold the severed head of Donald Trump. Outrage followed.
Removing for the argument whether one thinks Griffin’s dopey attempt at humor succeeded, Griffin felt the wrath of people who thought it was over-the-top.
Griffin has an absolute right to free speech (save again for the “fire in crowded theater” example) and is free to parody anyone she wants in any manner she wants.
She doesn’t seem to realize that everyone else has a right to react with their own free speech. The president, his family or anyone else has a right to tweet about it. CNN has a right to not want to associate with her (she’s been canned from the network’s News Year’s Eve broadcast).
As far as I know, the government has not tried to shut her up or in any way or silence her.
Freedom of speech goes both ways. Griffin seems to think she has a right to regulate the response to her speech. You’re not a victim, Kathy. You exercised your right. So did others.
4. How does this guy have a show? “Comedian” Bill Maher thought it would be funny to drop the n-word on his unfunny HBO show. He apologized for it and that’s been the end of it.
HBO would have been well within its rights to fire him. It said it denounced the remark as “completely inexcusable and tasteless,” and said it would be edited out of future airings.
5. Iowa’s King of Pain. Republican US Rep. Steve King is a prejudiced, white supremacist hayseed who routinely spouts racist views. He has contended white Christians have contributed more to Western civilization than any other “subgroup.” He also says that Muslim children are preventing “our civilization” from being restored.
King also tweeted a message endorsing Geert Wilders, a far-right candidate for Dutch prime minister, said Wilders “understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” OMG.
The vacationing public is responding with their feet. The Iowan Tourism department says people are complaining about King and cancelling their vacation plans. Unless one has family there, I’m not sure why anyone would take a vacation in Iowa but apparently those who do are changing their mind.
The point here is, the Constitution guarantees free speech and expression—including expression to respond to free speech. No one is guaranteed speech without consequence.