Wythe Holt, a law professor at the University of Alabama is a self-proclaimed defender of the First Amendment. In 2002, Professor Holt came to the aid of a young black female, who had been censored by officials at her high school in Huntsville, Alabama.
The student, Kohl Fallin, had written a poem comparing blacks and whites with the following line: ?We are worth more than your pale white skin. Not a penny less but a thousand billion pennies more.? She also described the way she felt when racist remarks were directed towards her by whites: ?When I hear these words come out of your mouth it makes me want to slap the white off you and leave you with some sense.?
After using this highly charged language, Fallin ended her poem on a more positive note: ?If you spent your time focusing on ways we are alike instead of ways you think we are inferior to you, then you would see what we are really about, and you may then define us with words because you will know just how precious and priceless we really are.?
After officials at Huntsville?s Lee High School banned the poem from publication in a student magazine, Professor Holt wrote a letter to the Board of Education. In his letter, he suggested that the poem should be published and that the school should apologize to Fallin for stifling her right to express her frustrations with perceived white racism.
And Professor Holt was right.
I thought that the poem contained good and bad speech and, thus, served as a reminder of the two principal dangers of censorship. The first danger is the suppression of good speech. The second is the suppression of an appreciation for good speech, fostered by exposure to bad speech. But judging between good and bad speech is the role of individuals, not governments.
To the best of my knowledge, the Kohl Fallin case represents the last time that Professor Holt has been right on a First Amendment issue. Since then, he has not only been wrong, but dangerously irresponsible in his approach to free expression.
In 2o02, when a group of professors at the University of Alabama opposed a mandatory sensitivity training program, Professor Holt was incensed. After dissenting faculty contacted state representatives to oppose funding for the Orwellian initiative, Holt decided to launch an investigation of them. Launching an investigation of citizens for ?petition(ing) the Government for a redress of grievances? would be foolish for anyone to consider. The idea that such an investigation would be launched by a law professor is more than foolish. It is cause for serious concern.
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