The abiding principle of free speech is that the ideas that prevail in the marketplace are the ones worthy of our support. This wouldn’t seem to be a very controversial notion, as ideas that can’t withstand scrutiny get rejected and those that can prevail. Woo hoo!
But turning this on its head, some student groups at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington received an invitation to offer their ideas and, instead of accepting, instead of rejecting, they responded by crying “threat” and then issued their own threat to “take action.”
Madison Marston sent personal email invitations to UNCW’s National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), PRIDE, and the Women’s and Gender Studies Student Association (WSSA), to extend an invitation to Ratio Christi’s “Abortion and Human Equality: A Pro Life Defense of the Unborn” discussion. The three organizations collectively declined while threatening Marston for sending the invitation.
“Each of the leaders of PRIDE, NARAL and WSSA ask that you no longer contact us directly,” the email, obtained by Campus Reform said. “As a student organization, your events are on the CAIC calendar, part of Hawk e-News, and disseminated in a variety of other ways, which is sufficient for us to be aware of them. We do not need, nor want, these invitations. If you continue to attempt to contact any of us, we will take further action.”
To be clear, I have no sympathy for the anti-abortion view, and clearly see good reason why the groups would choose not to participate in a debate on a “pro-life” stage, with their opposition setting the ground rules and stacking the audience with their supporters. It’s hardly the sort of situation conducive to a fair fight.
But as the old saying goes, “what do you want, an engraved invitation?” Well, they got one, at least to the extent that personal email invitations are the equivalent. They were offered the opportunity to take the stage, to bring their people in, to speak their mind. To the extent the anti-abortion group could offer their adversaries an opportunity to engage in the marketplace of ideas, they did so.
Normally, this would be a reason to applaud, if not celebrate, the idea that they were open to debate, even if it was within their own paradigm. Instead, the invitation to the marketplace was met with whininess. Whether this counts as a micro or macro aggression is unclear at this time.
In the email, the organizations said they already had a separate event scheduled for that same date but also said they will not participate in any debates with the Christian apologetics organization as they do not share the same beliefs when it comes to abortion and LGBT issues.
“As such, we have no desire to debate them with you or your organization,” the organizations said in the email. “We have no desire to hear from Mike Adams who has routinely mocked us and engaged in hostile and belittling behavior towards our organizations and beliefs. We have no desire to attend any event sponsored by your organization and its narrow beliefs steeped in religious bigotry and intolerance.”
It’s fine that they prefer to preach only to the choir, or that they refuse to go anywhere near people and ideas that hurt their feelings. The cool thing about speech is that no one can make you listen, and if its your preference to hear nothing that would hurt your delicate ears, that’s your right.
Of course, it may be over the top to assert that those who believe in a view you don’t share hold “narrow beliefs steeped in religious bigotry and intolerance.” Your beliefs are correct, valuable and important, and anyone who disagrees is a bigot and intolerant? Muslim fundamentalist much? Pointing out the error of claiming the mantle of tolerance while hurling insults at those who disagree is an offense punishable by ridicule. And ridicule hurts feelings, you know.
But in the scheme of free speech, hypocritical and absurd expression is allowed. It doesn’t protect you from people laughing at your dopiness, but you have the right to be as much of a dumbass as you want to be. Yet, this is where it gets sticky:
We do not need, nor want, these invitations. If you continue to attempt to contact any of us, we will take further action.
Take further action? Will you sue them? Will you cry to the dean that someone with ideas that differ from yours has invited you to participate in a program, and they must be punished? Perhaps you should run to your Title IX administrator and tell her you’ve been email raped?
One email from a group with a different view than yours isn’t harassment. It’s not a sexual assault, even though it would fall under the federal definition. It’s a thoughtful offering to present your beliefs in the marketplace of ideas. You don’t have to accept it, and you have every right to delete the email if that’s your choice. Or you can just hit “reply all” and tell them they’re poopy heads and dress funny. Whatever.
But to reply with a threat to “take further action” is just ridiculous, embarrassing and puny. It’s not a reflection of the cause, but of the individuals involved being so fragile and foolish as to be incapable of handling an invitation to the marketplace of ideas. And if that’s so, then it suggests you don’t believe your cause can survive in the marketplace. Was that your message?