Earlier this morning, I came across a story about a law suit filed by a California college student. It seems this young man attends a state college and had tried to hand out Spanish language versions of the Constitution on campus one day. He wasn’t inside any of the buildings. Far from it, in fact. He was in the public areas and, according to the suit, he wasn’t trying to convince anyone to think a certain way. He simply wanted to help students inform themselves on what was in the Constitution.
Except he wasn’t allowed to. As he was getting started, a member of the administration came up to him and told him he wasn’t allowed to hand out copies of the Constitution, be they in Spanish or English or any other language. The only place he could do so was in the “free speech zone” on campus. The zone, by the way, was described in one of the articles I read about the incident as follows: if the campus was the size of a standard tennis court, the free speech zone would be the size of a cellphone. That should give you an idea of how “valued” free speech is on this campus.
But it gets better. Even if he wanted to use the free speech zone, he couldn’t do so until he went to the powers-that-be and filed for approval — and received it — to use it and hand out his copies of the Constitution. .
Now think about that for a moment. A so-called free speech zone that required permission to be used. Hmmm. Maybe it speech wasn’t so free after all. What do you think?
Now we aren’t talking about a Speaker’s Corner ala Hyde Park in London. For those of you not familiar with Speaker’s Corner there, it is a large area in the park near the famed marble arch. There speakers can hold forth on just about anything they want as long as they aren’t inciting violence, etc. While not everything is legally allowed, the police are usually very tolerant. A quick search of some of the people who have taken advantage of Speaker’s Corner there throughout history shows they range from Karl Marx to Lenin to George Orwell to the Catholic Evidence Guild. Wikipedia lists many, many more.
Apparently, this particular California college system doesn’t believe its faculty and students can handle hearing diverse points of view. So, instead of facilitating such discussions, it shunts them off to remote parts of its various campuses. I’m sure when the system files its response to the law suit, we will see such things as protecting students from hateful speech, etc. The problem with this is that the world is full of opinions that don’t fall into lockstep with what any one person believes. Some of those opinions are hurtful. Others are hysterical. No one ever said the world is fair. It isn’t and never will be, not so long as there are humans on the planet.
When are we finally going to realize that we aren’t helping anyone by trying to protect them from speech they might find offensive or hurtful or just plain dumb? Shouldn’t we instead be teaching them how to counter it effectively? Instead of hiding heads in the sand, they should be able to look the offender in the eye and speak logically, persuasively and with facts to back them up as they offer a counter-argument. But no, our colleges would rather pamper them and let them continue the false belief begun in public school that they have a right not to be offended.
Free speech isn’t something that should be relegated to a small, isolated area of a public college campus. It isn’t something that should have to be approved by college administration to be able to make use of the “free speech zone”. If approval is needed, it isn’t free speech. It’s time the nanny state understood that.