Writing for The Guardian, Martha Gill shows exactly how not to make a convincing case that claims that free speech is endangered on college campuses are overblown.
But is free speech really under threat? The first thing to say is that the scale of the problem in universities has been exaggerated. The practice of denying people speaking slots over their views has rightly caused concern, but every single instance has also attracted vast coverage in national papers, giving the impression of an epidemic. They are not reflective of the feelings of most students.
. . .
Free speech advocates also misunderstand the motivation of those who might want to shut down a debate: they see this as a surefire mark of intolerance. But some debates should be shut down. For public dialogue to make any progress, it is important to recognise when a particular debate has been won and leave it there.
Even the most passionate free speech advocate might not wish to reopen the debate into whether women should be tried for witchcraft, or whether ethnic minorities should be allowed to go to university, or whether the Earth is flat. No-platformers are not scared – they simply think certain debates are over. You may disagree, but it does not mean they are against free speech.
It is not that some people are against free speech, but rather that some people think some speech simply should not be allowed. Got it.
If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.
Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801
Nice video from the Foundation for Economic Education recounting the tale of the Parent’s Music Resource Center.
I’d forgotten about the Filthy Fifteen list of songs that the PMRC put out in 1985 as being most objectionable.
Prince “Darling Nikki”
Sheena Easton “Sugar Walls”
Judas Priest “Eat Me Alive”
Vanity “Strap On ‘Robbie Baby'”
Mötley Crüe “Bastard”
AC/DC “Let Me Put My Love Into You”
Twisted Sister “We’re Not Gonna Take It”
Madonna “Dress You Up”
W.A.S.P. “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)”
Def Leppard “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night)”
Mercyful Fate “Into the Coven”
Black Sabbath “Trashed”
Mary Jane Girls “In My House”
Cyndi Lauper “She Bop”
C-SPAN has a video of the nearly 5-hour long testimony on September 19, 1985 before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. A full transcript plus additional materials is available here.
Wendy Kaminer hits the nail on the head about avoiding offense.
If we have a right not to be offended, then we have no right to give offense. That means we have no reliable, predictable right to speak, because in diverse societies there are no universal opinions or beliefs that are universally inoffensive. If we have a legal right to feel emotionally safe and un-offended, we have a legal obligation to keep silent, which we violate at our peril. Emotionally safe societies are dangerous places for people who speak.