Today, the threat to free speech is coming primarily from the Left. This is just the latest example. Stay tuned for CCHQ’s take at the bottom.
The University of Northern Colorado (UNCO) has decided it’s time to prohibit “Bias Motivated Incidents.” When you hear about a “bias motivated incident,” maybe you’re thinking about a cross burning, or something of that nature. But at UNCO the “bias motivated incident” could simply be an “inappropriate joke” that is motivated by some form of bias.
The UNCO policy also says that “Any discriminatory act is a violation of the Housing & Residence Life Student Code of Conduct.” Well, what do they mean by “any discriminatory act”? According to the UNCO handbook this includes, but is not limited to, “racism, ageism, sexism, and/or homophobia.” And (get ready for this!) included in the definition is “intentionally, recklessly or negligently causing physical, emotional, or mental harm to any person.”
First, and perhaps most obviously, it empowers people to trump the speech of others by simply becoming offended. So it really protects and defends the speech of those least able to protect and defend their own speech through reasoned discourse. It is not often that the speech of the emotionally frail has much merit. People who fall apart emotionally in response to protected speech are unlikely to have the intellectual firepower needed to articulate ideas from which the rest of us can benefit. They are simply being empowered to trump the speech of their emotional and intellectual superiors.
Second, it empowers people to trump the speech of others by pretending to be offended. When this occurs, the speech code is rewarding more than just the intellectually inferior – it is rewarding the morally inferior. It is using faux outrage to cancel honest opinion.
Finally, as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) points out, laws must “give a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly.” Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108-09 (1972). If people do not know what is prohibited there will be a dramatic chilling effect on free speech.
Those who must live under UNCO’s policy cannot know what could cause another person “emotional” or “mental” harm. That is because the policy does not require that the speaker intends to cause the alleged harm. The fact that someone subjectively feels “emotionally harmed” by the speech is enough for UNCO. So the speaker who correctly imagines that just about any idea is bound to offend someone, somewhere, is deterred from speaking on any potentially controversial topic.
College administrators often fail to distinguish between speech that is severe and persistent enough to constitute harassment and simple isolated expressions of protected speech. It appears as if they are utterly unable to write a code that could pass constitutional muster. More likely, they are fully aware that they can sustain the code through the twin threat of internal formal sanction and social stigmatization. Many would like to defeat such a patently illegal policy. Few wish to be dubbed racist, sexist, or homophobic in the process.
We have also learned that it’s not only someone’s speech which is under scrutiny, but also the individual uttering it. The most recent and glaring example of this came from Harry Reid, who was given a big pass for his “negro” comment where a conservative would have been made to pay big time. Speech codes by the Left are inevitably applied in a highly selective way. They are meant to stifle you, gentle readers, not themselves. But it’s not only your speech that is the being controlled, it’s what you think. If you’re not allowed to say something, then you shouldn’t be thinking it. They use these speech codes to shape the culture, i.e., how you think. And if the culture shapers can begin their work early in the universities when their victims are still young and impressionable, then the future belongs to them. And that’s why at CCHQ we say what we think, and you should too.