There can be little doubt that most contemporary First Amendment problems are caused by self-proclaimed liberals. If you doubt that or think the incidents I write about in my column are “isolated,” you are simply wrong. I’ve written about hundreds of these “isolated incidents” over the last several years.
But occasionally I have to write in defense of those who are about to be censored by forces from the right side of the political spectrum. I did that when a fellow Republican tried to shut down a gay student organization at a public high school. I also did that on two occasions where university professors faced termination for unpopular views in the wake of 911. Today, I write in defense of a group whose name is too profane for me to repeat. You can figure it out by merely swapping the first letters of the two words in the title of today’s column.
When the following video began to make the rounds on the internet, several conservatives contacted me for help in shutting down the organization responsible for creating the video (note: video contains explicit content).
It is easy to understand why people were upset by what they saw. The language is obscene, to say the least. Worse still, the proponents of “equality” insisted on using young children to hurl abusive profanity at their political opponents – an inexcusable and tasteless tactic, indeed.
But censorship is not the “solution” to the “problem” of offensive speech. John Stuart Mill correctly observed that there are two types of harm that arise from censorship. The first, and most obvious harm, is that censorship may deprive people of the truth. The second, and less obvious harm, is that censorship may deprive people of a greater appreciation of the truth via its juxtaposition with falsity.
Some conservatives in the anti-abortion movement understand the latter principle. They go to college campuses and show pictures of newborn babies next to pictures of the remains of a partial-birth abortion. The displays are offensive to many. But they can be very effective if done correctly.
Some liberals in the UNC-Charlotte Gay PRIDE group recently figured out that so-called offensive speech can be used to advance the arguments of the offended. But this can only happen if they resist the urge to engage in censorship. I had to teach them that valuable lesson last month on UNCC Conservative Coming Out Day.
The day I came to speak at UNCC, several concerned (read: offended) gay rights activists called in the local media to help them publicize their objections to my appearance. The president of PRIDE went on camera and told the local news station that my appearance was an example of “bullying.”
Did you hear that one? Speech equals bullying and bullying must be stopped. It’s just another self-proclaimed liberal asking the free press to help him destroy the First Amendment.
When I gave my speech at UNCC, a news camera was there. So were about 25 members of PRIDE. They were very attentive and very polite. They nodded in agreement with many of my arguments and they applauded sincerely at the end of my speech.
During that speech I pleaded with the members of PRIDE to avoid embracing the notion that they somehow have a right to be unoffended. I told them that if they confront offensive speech they should not censor it. They should instead use it in an effort to show that they have an important agenda that proposes real solutions to real problems.
It is reasonable to impose time, place, and manner restrictions to keep Fred Phelps away from military funerals. But it is not reasonable to ban his speech altogether. In fact, groups like PRIDE should do the exact opposite. They should record his speech, post it on their websites, and promote it as a way of showing that hatred is real and that they, the members of PRIDE, have a better way.
The members of PRIDE understood what I was saying even though people like Neal Boortz do not. Boortz would prefer to use the long arm of the government to threaten university students with expulsion for refusing to agree with politically correct views on sexuality.
Boortz would allow government re-education – even for the commonplace idea that sexual orientation involves choice. And he would support the actual expulsion of students from state universities if they refuse to submit to government-supervised re-education. But I believe that ideas far more offensive than that have a place in the marketplace of ideas. And I believe that those who find them offensive can sometimes find them useful.
Opponents of gay marriage need to use rather than censor the video I have referenced in this column. It will certainly help us challenge the idea that opponents of gay marriage are less loving and tolerant than proponents. And it speaks volumes about the imprudence of supporting gay adoption.
The temptation to censor other views comes naturally to all human beings, whether gay or straight. But it is a temptation we can all chose to suppress. Our genes have not destined us to Neal at the altar of political correctness.