Hate Speech 101 (Revisited)

Posted: Feb 19, 2004 12:00 AM

Dear Professor Thompson:

I am writing to compliment you on your handling of a recent free-speech controversy, which began after a student expressed his religious objections to homosexual behavior in a course offered in your department.  Many people reading a recent article I wrote about the controversy decided to write to you expressing their concerns. Your response to them (reproduced below in its entirety) contains several important elements, which are cause for optimism despite the generally deplorable state of free expression at UNC-Chapel Hill:

Thank you for your concern. I understand that news of this incident is distressing to anyone interested in higher education and free and open speech. We are here at UNC to promote responsible and respectful exchange, not to discourage or censor it. The original email should not have been sent out, and the instructor has apologized. I will be monitoring the class closely for the rest of the semester.

Sincerely yours,

James Thompson
Professor and Chair
Department of English
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In your letter you have made no effort to conceal what transpired in Professor Crystall?s classroom. You have also offered a condemnation of her behavior. Furthermore, you have indicated that you will take steps to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. This is almost unheard of among college administrators.

The letter you are now reading will also be published on various Internet sites and print publications around the nation. I hope that after reading it, people will take the time to thank you for the manner in which you have handled this very delicate situation. I also hope that those who have criticized Professor Crystall will take the time to thank her for apologizing for this unfortunate incident.

I also hope that Professor Crystall will continue to discuss controversial topics in the courses she teaches at UNC-Chapel Hill. The topics she appears to cover should not be neglected altogether. However, if the discussion of such topics becomes excessive in the opinion of some participants, or if the discussion of the topics becomes one-sided, people are bound to be offended.

I think that what has just taken place illustrates a fundamental flaw in our approach to diversity in the UNC system and in higher education around the country. This flaw seems to stem from the pursuit of two mutually incompatible goals. First, we want to emphasize diversity by bringing people with different perspectives together. Second, we want to make sure that no one is ever offended.

Make no mistake about it; if we bring people together who have different ideas and perspectives, some will be offended. There is simply no constitutional right to ?freedom from offense.? And there is certainly no compatibility between the real provisions of the First Amendment and the ?speech codes? that universities such as UNC-Chapel Hill are beginning to employ, presumably to thwart the inevitable tension between the two incompatible goals of the diversity movement.

Our speech code at UNC-Wilmington prohibits ?offensive speech or behavior of a biased or prejudiced nature related to one?s personal characteristics, such as race, color, national origin, sex, religion, handicap, age or sexual orientation.?

To take seriously such an absurd code would place even mild expressions on either side of debates involving sexual orientation in jeopardy. It is far better that such debates take place where people are offended than that they never take place at all.

It is clear that you understand that. I hope some day that all college administrators will understand it too.

Mike Adams is the author of ?Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel.? To order your signed copy, log on to www.DrAdams.org.