In 2003, Professor Holt declined to oppose a campus ban on flags because he viewed the Confederate flag to be inflammatory and offensive. This was despite the fact that the ban applied to other flags such as the American flag. It took an uprising among students to teach the administration that the ban was unconstitutional. They won a victory for the First Amendment without the support of Wythe Holt, the self-proclaimed defender of free speech.
If passive aggression towards free expression were Professor Holt?s only error, this column would not be necessary. But now, Holt is actively involved in an attempt to systematically ban ideas he finds offensive at Alabama?s flagship institution. The attempt takes the form of a new ban on ?any behavior which demeans or reduces an individual based on group affiliation or personal characteristics, or which promotes hate or discrimination.?
Professor Holt?s new campus speech code is so overly broad and vague that it stands no chance of passing constitutional muster if fully implemented and challenged. I am one of many who will not rest until a war against this initiative is fully engaged in both the court of public opinion and in a court of law. When clearly unnecessary and illegal speech codes are drafted for purposes of intimidation, justice demands no less.
Wythe Holt, like so many others in academia, fails understand that free expression is process, not a result. Public discourse cannot be rigged to guarantee certain results for certain groups contingent upon their present popularity with the powers that be.
Our constitution demands that the government remain uninvolved in the marketplace of ideas whenever possible. Whenever government involvement in matters of free expression is necessary, it must take the form of facilitation that is viewpoint neutral. It cannot take the form of manipulation that is ideologically motivated.
Put simply, our commitment to the First Amendment is best shown when we reluctantly support those who contradict our views, not when we enthusiastically support those who share them.
It appeared for a time that Wythe Holt understood that principal. But now the public knows better. Because of his actions, precious freedoms are in danger at Alabama?s flagship institution. Come to think of it, this isn?t the first time.