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.”
In my view, there are at least three fundamental dangers associated with the UNCO speech code.
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.