As I've said before, free speech has consequences, and ought to. Put another way, you're not the only one with free speech. Other people might respond to your speech with their own speech, and you might not like it. Response speech might be unfair, intemperate, immoral, or disproportionate, just like your initial speech. It's irrational to judge one and not the other. As a popular cartoon suggests, your right to be a jackass and other people's right to overreact are equivalent.
But I've noticed that the mantra "free speech has consequences" is increasingly abused. People invoke it not to mean "free speech has social consequences in the form of other people exercising their free speech," but to mean "the government can impose official consequences on you for speech it doesn't like." That's a corruption of the idea, and is usually a false statement of law. Censors like to invoke it; they're lying to you.
This week's case in point: the University of Texas. The UT Young Conservatives of Texas — previously famed for stunts like a campus-wide "catch an illegal immigrant" game — recently held an affirmative action bake sale. That's a bake sale that charges people differently based on ethnicity and gender to make a somewhat belabored point about affirmative action policies. It's a hoary rhetorical device that is frequently met with attempts at censorship by academic imbeciles.
The UT community reaction was mixed. The student paper offered an editorial acknowledging that the protest was protected by the First Amendment. The administration acknowledged that it was protected speech and could not be punished. So far, so good. But students also petitioned their government to expel the UT Young Conservatives of Texas, and student government members supported it. Student government member Ashley Choi invoked the consequence trope:
University-wide Representative Ashley Choi, an author of the resolution, called on the assembly to set a precedent that incidents like the YCT affirmative action bake sale will not be tolerated.
“Freedom of speech has consequences,” Choi told the assembly. “That’s why we’re here today.”
Well, no. You're there today, Ms. Choi, because you're a silly totalitarian thug who is trying to invoke state power to punish speech you don't like. You're there because you disdain fundamental rights and civic values. You're there because you perceive, perhaps correctly, that you are ineffectual at persuasion and therefore must use force.
Proponents of the petition overtly believe that UT students ought to be prohibited from questioning affirmative action. Put another way, students like Choi believe that students shouldn't be allowed to question whether and how the school treats people differently based on the color of their skin.
“When [universities] don’t have concrete policy defining what constitutes a hate crime, a lot of the lines get blurred, and a lot of the racist, misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic incidents happening on campus are disguised as freedom of speech or academic freedom,” said Choi, an international relations and global studies senior. “Because of [this] a lot of organizations, especially Young Conservatives of Texas, have been getting away with this kind of racist disaster.”
Ms. Choi should be permitted to advocate for unconstitutional things. The consequences for her doing so should not be official — that is, she should not be expelled or punished by UT. The consequence should be social. She and her censorious ilk deserve our open contempt.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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