You probably know her. She?s only in her forties, but she?s already on her fourth marriage. Her kids are grown so she decides to get a job at the local university. Now she has secure employment, even if her salary and benefits are not up to par. But, most of all, she likes what she hears from day one; namely, that her employer will assiduously defend the rights of blacks, women, and gays never to be offended in the workplace. She is protected by the campus speech code.
At first it starts with the occasional offhand remark. She jokes with a student worker, saying that she should just sleep with her professor to get a better grade. Then she jokes with a professor by telling him that the female office staff ?sexually evaluate? him when he isn?t around. Then she embarrasses a student worker who complains about a kidney infection by saying ?yes, we all know where that came from.?
But then it happens. Someone offends her. And it isn?t a woman or an African American. It isn?t even a homosexual. It?s just a conservative professor.
At first she says that she just wants to talk to him. But he doesn?t react the way that she expects. He isn?t condescending or angry. He just politely asks her what he might have said to offend her. So she starts to cry. Then she raises her voice. Then she asks for a three-way meeting with the department chair as she storms out of the office.
But the meeting never happens. Instead, while the accused ?offender? is at lunch, she runs to the department chair, saying she was made to feel uncomfortable by the professor?s political remarks. She cannot identify anything specific but the chair caves in anyway. He calls the professor into the office to make sure that he stops saying the unknown word or phrase that made her feel uncomfortable.
The woman I am referring to suffers from what I call Free Expression Menopause Syndrome (FEMS). FEMS causes her to have hot flashes and to become emotionally unraveled every time she hears an opinion contrary to her own. But this kind of reaction is by no means a female problem.
In fact, you probably know him, too. He?s in his thirties. He came out of the closet in his twenties. He?s never worked anywhere but a public university. He thinks that the speech codes were written because of cases like the one involving Matthew Shepard. And he thinks they were written for gays only.
He recently helped to organize a trans-gendered law seminar at the university. It was there that he made offensive remarks about Christians. But when a professor later writes to ask how much money the seminar cost the taxpayers, he suddenly remembers the university speech code that protects him from offensive speech.
So he refuses to release the information about the cost of the seminar. The professor asks again, suggesting that such costs are a matter of public record. He says that he is familiar with the professor?s tone (it is allegedly homophobic). Then he warns him that the conversation is ?elevating in a way that makes him feel uncomfortable.?
The ?man? I am referring to suffers from what I call First Amendment Male Menopause Syndrome (FAMMS). FAMMS causes him to have hot flashes and to become emotionally unraveled every time he hears an opinion contrary to his own.
Both of these syndromes, FEMS and FAMMS feed off of the cowardice of the majority. Decent people capitulate to these hypersensitive censors, often thinking that appeasement is the easiest way to handle them. They are wrong.
But, fortunately, there is a simple remedy to be found in the speech codes themselves. Anyone can use this remedy the next time that, for example, a gay man with FAMMS tries to suppress free speech because he is ?offended? by apparent opposition to homosexuality.
First, the ?offender? must take the time to make that opposition more clear. If he chastises the ?offender? with an angry email, the appropriate response is a nice email, preferable with a Bible verse included below the signature. If someone really wanted to have fun, he could make it Leviticus 18:22.
If you decide to send such a note, get ready for the inevitable complaint accusing you of engaging in ?discriminatory speech? by offending someone on the basis of sexual orientation. Then be ready to fire off your own complaint, stating that you were ?offended? by the classification of your religious speech as ?offensive.? Furthermore, cite the very filing of your accuser?s complaint as an act of religious discrimination.
Pretty soon, the university will get the point that its speech code is unworkable, not to mention unconstitutional. If they don?t get the point, drop me a line. I know a few lawyers who are ready to deal with this kind of ?misunderstanding.?
Remember that the First Amendment does not protect people from being offended by your speech. In fact, it was written to protect speech that is offensive.
Most people understand that. Most college administrators do not.