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The fight for free speech
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As I have often reported, FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) continually fights in the courts and media to protect the free speech rights of students and faculty on college campuses -- no matter their politics or religion (or absence of any).
However, much remains for FIRE to do to educate students on why and how they are Americans. Earlier this month, that defender of America's most primal identity warned:
"As millions of college students arrive on campus this fall -- many for the first time -- few of them realize that nearly 59 percent of our nation's colleges maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict speech protected by the First Amendment."
A particularly startling example of the cult of censorship among many college administrators is a Sept. 5 email message to University of California-Berkeley students, faculty and staff from chancellor Nicholas Dirks.
He began by noting it is the 50th anniversary of the extraordinary Free Speech Movement by University of California students. But then listen to how this university's commander-in-chief defined free speech:
"We can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility ...
"Insofar as we wish to honor the ideal of Free Speech, therefore, we should do so by exercising it graciously. This is true not just of political speech on Sproul Plaza (on campus), but also in our everyday interactions with each other -- in the classroom, in the office, and in the lab."
In other words: Be polite, or shut up.
In his new, short, essential book, "Freedom From Speech," Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE, tells, as we have just seen, "how higher education pioneered the idea that some students, professors, or administrators have the 'right not to be offended.'
"This mythical right manifests itself in campus speech codes that ban 'hurtful,' 'inconsiderate,' or 'offensive' speech."
It gets worse. Consider what else Lukianoff says is not allowed on too many campuses these days. You may find the following hard to believe, as I did at first:
"Constitution Day in 2013 was a particularly bad day for free speech on campus. At Modesto Junior College in California, student and decorated military veteran Robert Van Tuinen was told he could not hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution to his fellow students. On the same day, at California's Citrus College, student Vincenzo Sinapi-Riddle was informed that he could not freely protest the National Security Agency (NSA) and its surveillance program on campus."
Long ago, the president of Northeastern University in Boston threw me out of the editorship of the school paper for having offended too many people.
I have ever since been indebted to him for showing me what I'm here for.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights.