Occasionally we discuss pieces in student newspapers that reflect the evolving views on our campus toward free speech. One such editorial appeared last week in the Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) student newspaper The Observer. The Observer editorial board wrote that the recognition of a pro-life student group presents an unacceptable risk to the student body. The editorial, which due criticism from sites like Campus Reform, is legitimately a concern over the rising anti-free speech movement taking hold on our campus.
The editorial objected to the university recognizing a group for pro-life students called Case for Life, which seeks to “protect and promote respect for all life from conception to natural death” through education, outreach, and volunteering at local pregnancy centers. The editors denounced the failure of the University to “protect” the student body. The newspaper claims that “protesting outside of an abortion clinic is inherently violent.” It adds:
There are several problems with what this organization represents and does. Hence, it is apparent that they pose a threat to the student body and anyone who chooses to have an abortion, and it is the university’s responsibility to prevent harm to our community. They failed and have been failing for quite some time now.
It is not just that students have to worry about laws that impose on their bodily autonomy, but they also have to worry about being in an environment that is supposed to be safe but isn’t.
The students equate students with opposing views as a harmful threat to the student body as a whole. They further dismiss the notion that it is an assault on free speech to base funding on whether the editors or even the majority of the students agree with the views of a given student group. It would effectively eliminate groups with minority views and values. Yet the editors insist:
“Invoking the First Amendment to reject recognition is a weak argument; not allocating funding does not equate to banning Case for Life from campus. If anything, allocation of funding through students’ tuition leaves students voiceless, unable to fight back against an organization that infringes upon at least half of the students’ right to reproductive privacy.”
It is an utterly ridiculous argument. Of course, this is a content-based denial of free speech. Otherwise, schools could deny resources and access to groups with dissenting or minority views. The editors are declaring the very act of protesting to be violence and the expression of their views as a threat to the student body.”
Lingering within these lines is the emerging view of free speech as harmful. They are not alone. CNN’s media expert Brian Stelter has called for censorship as “a harm reduction model.” Stelter mocked those who have raised concerns over censorship and assured CNN’s viewers that there is nothing to fear from campaigns to censor and ban speakers. In addition, he appeared to defend campaigns to have Fox News dropped from cable carriers.
Others have sought to embrace censorship by declaring the speech of others as harmful. This includes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof who insisted that “cable providers should be asked why they distribute channels that peddle lies.” Washington Post columnist and CNN analyst Max Boot also wrote that cable providers should “step in and kick Fox News off.” He added that it may be necessary to also block Newsmax and One America News Network. (For the record, I am a legal analyst on Fox News).
The saddest aspect of this anti-free speech movement is to see students embrace it. Students were once the champions of free speech. Yet we have a rising generation of censors. Both students and some faculty have maintained the position that they have a right to silence those with whom they disagree and student newspapers have declared opposing speech to be outside of the protections of free speech.
Once faculty and students succeed in treating speech as harmful or violence, free speech becomes a privilege controlled by whatever the majority says it is. With journalism professors, writers, faculty, and students all arguing for censorship, free speech itself is being cast as a danger rather than the defining right of our society.