Clamping Down on Free Speech on Campus.


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Under US law, almost all speech in public settings is protected by the First Amendment. There are exceptions—fighting words, incitement, harassment, threats and intimidation, obscenity and defamation—but case law defines them very narrowly. Many college speech codes, however, define them broadly, so as to prohibit constitutionally protected speech. For example, “obscenity” in the legal sense refers only to highly graphic sexual material, and does not cover the four letter words popularly called “obscenities.” Yet some colleges ban “indecent, profane or vulgar language.”

Politically incorrect ideas are often suppressed on the pretext of combating harassment. Legally, “harassment” refers to “extreme and usually repetitive behavior—behavior so serious that it would interfere with a reasonable person’s ability to receive his or her education.” An example of this was a 1999 case that involved “repeated attempts to touch the victim’s breasts and genitals together with repeated sexually explicit comments directed at and about the victim.”

Telling off-color jokes or expressing supposedly offensive racial views is not harassment, and the Bush administration’s Department of Education sent a letter to all colleges and universities making this clear. Yet students at California State University at Chico can face sexual harassment charges for “reinforcement of sexist stereotypes through subtle, often unintentional means” which include “references to both men and women as necessarily heterosexual [or] continual use of generic masculine terms to refer to people of both sexes.” A sentence like “Every student should raise his hand,” could get you in trouble at Chico.

(American Renaissance, February 3, 2012).

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