Last week I gave a lecture at Pennsylvania State University (PSU) on the topic of free speech. While I was there, I noticed that PSU has this rather amusing statement on “Nondiscrimination and Harassment”:
Harassment may include, but is not limited to, verbal or physical attacks, written threats or slurs that relate to a person's membership in a protected class, unwelcome banter, teasing, or jokes that are derogatory, or depict members of a protected class in a stereotypical and demeaning manner, or any other conduct which has the purpose or effect of interfering unreasonably with an individual's work or academic performance or creates an offensive, hostile, or intimidating working or learning environment.
I found your statement on “Intolerance” to be equally amusing:
Intolerance refers to an attitude, feeling or belief in furtherance of which an individual acts to intimidate, threaten or show contempt for other individuals or groups based on characteristics such as age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, political belief, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation or veteran status.
And the following was simply a classic:
Acts of intolerance will not be tolerated at The Pennsylvania State University.
I really don’t know how you’re going to enforce a “zero tolerance” policy on intolerance. When someone is intolerant will you hold a hearing? Then, when the judges condemn them for intolerance will you hold separate hearings to address the intolerance of the judges? How long will it take before everyone at Penn State is judged as intolerant by someone else?
In order to better gauge the depth of the black hole of tolerance into which you have stepped, I have a suggestion. Take two mirrors and face them towards one another. Next, I want you to stand in between the mirrors holding a sign that says “intolerance.” How many signs do you see? Are you beginning to get the point, President Spanier?
As much of a mind-bender as that was, I want you to see another dilemma stemming from your “Student Guide to General University Policies and Rules”:
When students accept admission to Penn State, they accept the rights and responsibilities of membership in the academic and social environments of that community. Students are expected to support its essential values and to maintain a high standard of conduct that may exceed federal, state, or local requirements (including) respect for the dignity of all persons and a willingness to learn from the differences in people, ideas, and opinions … Concern for others and their feelings and their need for conditions that support an environment in which they can work, grow, and succeed at Penn State.
How exactly are you going to promote concern for everyone’s feelings in a free society? The First Amendment offers no guarantee of a peaceful, unwounded inner child. It guarantees that each of us will be offended with regularity in exchange for the right to speak freely. That is the price of living in a free society. It is a small price, indeed.
Of course, if you really were serious about banning derogatory “banter, teasing, or jokes,” eradicating “contempt,” and mandating “concern for others and their feelings” it would be very hard to take you seriously. But it is far worse than that at Penn State. It appears that you are, at best, insincere hypocrites. Please allow me to explain.
After my speech at Penn State, I picked up a few copies of an “alternative” student literary magazine called “Problem Child.” The Pennsylvania taxpayer-funded publication is written and distributed on your campus. It recently featured a poem about Mother Teresa. Actually it was about one of Mother Teresa’s body parts – one that rhymes with the name “Delores.”
Just when I thought that 'Mother Teresa’s clitoris' was the most blasphemous poem I’d ever read, I read one called “What really happened to Unicorns.” It was hard to ascertain the point of the poem, but it seems the author thinks that Adam’s wife Eve was really a transgendered unicorn. I wanted to send you a copy but there were too many references to the f-word to merit reproduction. I didn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.
I also read poems entitled “Jesus thinks your skirt is stupid” and “I could spit you God.” But my favorite – by a long shot - was “Consummate angry poem.” It began with a reference to a Catholic priest sleeping on the author’s “limp d**k.” It ended with the author’s prayer thanking God he’s not a Jew.
I will not belabor the obvious point that anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism are permitted at Penn State despite your feigned interest in banning contempt for all groups. I will simply allow my good friends at The Alliance Defense Fund to do the talking. Wednesday morning they sued you in federal court.
This lawsuit promises to bring a lot of unwelcome banter. I expect the judge to show contempt for your institution’s collective constitutional ignorance. When he shows intolerance for your intolerance of intolerance you will probably feel uncomfortable. I sincerely hope my predictions don’t offend you.