Monday, May 20, 2013

Silencing Free Speech on College Campuses

By Alan Caruba

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The enemies of these freedoms, as expressed in the First Amendment, have always been at work to narrow and eliminate them.

A recent, egregious example of this was the subject of an article by Hans Bader, a former attorney with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. In 2003 he joined the staff of the Competitive Enterprise Institute as CEI’s Counsel for Special Projects after having service as Senior Counsel at the Center for Individual Rights.

On May 10, he wrote an article, “Federal Title IX Enforcers Effectively Define Dating and Sex Education as ‘Sexual Harassment’” based on the views expressed by Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

As we have seen of late, the federal government has been using the powers of the Internal Revenue Service to harass organizations identifying themselves as “Tea Party” groups, “patriots”, and even pro-Israel. The Department of Justice has come under fire for the way it accessed phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors.

The most fundamental fear of the Founders was a central government grown too large and acquiring powers to itself not delineated or prohibited by the Constitution. That document is devoted to limitations on the federal government and the states at the time it was introduced demanded that a Bill of Rights be included before they would ratify it.

It is a precious legacy for all Americans, but it has also been the target for all manner of individuals and groups that want to impose their own interpretation on it and to expand it in ways that actually undermine it.

“In a shocking affront to the United States Constitution,” said Lukianoff, “the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have joined together to mandate that virtually every college and university in the United States establish unconstitutional speech codes that violate the First Amendment and decades of legal precedent.”

“In 2011, the Department of Education took a hatchel to due process protection for students accused of sexual misconduct.” Now college students have had speech codes imposed on them that are “so broad that virtually every student will regularly violate them,” said Lukianoff. In essence, the new codes would define as punishable, any expression of sexual topics that offends any person!

In effect this outlaws any expression of opinion regarding sexual activity to include debates about sexual morality, gay marriage, or a classroom lecture on Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita.” It would outlaw any sexually themed joke that anyone might find offensive for any reason. It would criminalize any request for a date or any flirtation that is not welcomed by the recipient, all defined now as “offenses.”

As Lukianoff warns, “There is likely no student on any campus anywhere who is not guilty of at least one of these ‘offenses.’ Any attempt to enforce this rule evenhandedly and comprehensively will be impossible.”

Bader said “No one would believe you if you made this up, but it’s now actually happened.” The definition is found in a May 9 Title IX Letter of Findings and Resolution Agreement involving the University of Montana” but which now applies to all colleges and universities in America.

Bader notes that what makes this especially troubling is that the Supreme Court has already ruled on this behavior, stating that isolated instances of trivially offensive sexual speech are not illegal and are not to be considered “sexual harassment” in even the broadest possible sense.

Silencing free speech on our nation’s campuses is the official policy of the Obama administration. The mandate must be overturned before countless students find themselves expelled from colleges and universities for the flimsiest reasons. It affects what can be taught and discussed on those campuses. It is in direct contempt of the freedom of speech embedded in the First Amendment.

On May 5th in a speech delivered to the graduating class of the Ohio State University, President Obama warned students that “Unfortunately you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warm of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems; some of these same voices are also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.”

No, you should not reject these voices. Some come from the Tea Party movement. Others come from organizations such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Foundation for Individual Rights, among the many who keep an eye on what appears to be the most corrupt administration to have ever held power in Washington, D.C.

© Alan Caruba, 2013

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