Ed. Note: In light of United States Rep. Anthony Brown’s (D-MD) proposed bill to prohibit “hate speech” on campus, Chris Seaton and Andrew King have agreed to debate whether Congress should craft “hate speech” prohibitions for colleges. This is Chris’ argument:
Before taking the law school plunge, I briefly toyed with the notion of becoming a psychologist. An elective class in sociology at the University of Tennessee introduced me to an atheist African-American professor who openly mocked me in class, claimed the attacks on September 11, 2001 were a “white man’s conspiracy,” and proudly professed a love of Fidel Castro.
At the course’s conclusion, this professor sent me an email with my grade and expressed her deep concern that I thought my classmates and the course material were “a load of crap.”
If the lunatics running the asylum students and faculty of today had their way, that professor could be punished for “hate speech.” We must stand boldly against people like Maryland’s Representative Anthony Brown and firmly say “Fuck you, we stand for the free exchange of all ideas.” Congress has no business regulating speech on college campuses, much less crafting bills to punish “hate speech.”*
Legislating “hate speech” on college campuses carries a hefty burden. Any bill someone like Anthony Brown would propose must serve a compelling government interest, be as narrowly tailored as possible to serve that interest, and be the least restrictive means of achieving that interest.** It’s hard to see what sort of compelling government interest is at stake in defining and punishing “hate speech” on college campuses. No one yet has provided a clear-cut definition of “hate speech” or justified why the government should stick their nose in the issue.
Fortunately for Representative Brown’s constituency, the definition problem is easy to solve.
For institutions that might lack the necessary resources to create these programs, the bill would set aside grant money to “take away any excuse,” Brown said.
Grant money is nice, but it doesn’t excuse the fact no less than the United States Supreme Court held the government has no business deciding what is and isn’t offensive. Shifting the burden to college campuses creates a bizarre scenario where defending one’s right to be on campus is an actionable offense and singing a raucous football cheer song on another is perfectly acceptable. Without a uniform standard, the students of tomorrow will have no idea how to protect themselves from disciplinary hearings over hurtful words.
If our nation’s higher-education institutions band together and figure out a uniform standard of “hate speech,” what punitive measures would follow if a line was crossed? Is a student subject to diversity re-training, or do they face expulsion? No matter the punishment, it will not be the least restrictive means of combating “hate speech” on college campuses. Absent a slap on the wrist, no punishment would be facially constitutional.
Worse yet, crafting legislation intending to define and punish hate speech on college campuses doesn’t make the hatred go away. Rather, it sends the ideas it intends to punish away from the marketplace of ideas and into what is best termed the “melee of venom.” Silencing the voices of those you find offensive today just lets them fester and grow with grumbles and clenched teeth until the venom explodes into a mass of white polo-shirt wearing guys who never got laid marching with tiki torches chanting “blood and soil.”
Here’s a novel idea for Representative Anthony Brown: If you want to really promote diversity and inclusion, and make campuses safer for all, go back to Washington and craft legislation that protects the rights of those who speak on college campuses freely and equally, no matter how virtuous or scurrilous the speech may be. Let the woke students combat their fellow classmates who “don’t see race” with better ideas and better words, not with bike locks or pepper spray.
And that hateful stuff, the nasty Naxos chants and swastika-clad crowd? They get to speak too, no matter how much we hate them. That way the universities can see who’s out there spreading the nasty stuff, identify them, and take steps the university deems appropriate. Further, their classmates can combat their idiocy with better, more informed views. That’s the point of the marketplace of ideas.
I still think fondly of the sociology professor, wherever she is. It was in her class that I learned to speak up and fight for my beliefs. During her lectures I took notes on issues she’d bring up that didn’t seem right, fact check them, and come back to counter what was incorrect or inaccurate. Our exchanges were the stuff college should prepare a person for: those ideologies and institutions that you hold dearest are going to be challenged, and you’re better served when you know how to fight for them.
Taking that from college students by labeling words or actions “hate speech” does them no justice. In fact, it fails them in the worst way and at the worst time of their lives. We must restore this vital facet of education to college campuses everywhere by standing strongly against “hate speech” legislation aimed at college campuses.
*I put quotation marks around “hate speech” because there’s no legal definition for it.
** Lawyer-types call this a “strict scrutiny” test.