Mob Censorship On Campus
by Richard A. Epstein
via Defining Ideas (Hoover Institution)
Monday, March 13, 2017
In today’s political climate, there are sharp divisions of opinion over a range of issues, from health care and climate change to education and labor law. Ideally, a civil debate undertaken with mutual respect could ease tension and advance knowledge. Politics, however, often takes a very different turn.
One of the landmark decisions of the United States Supreme Court, New York Times v. Sullivan, was decided in 1964 at the height of civil rights movement. Writing for the majority, Justice William Brennan insisted that the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech rested on “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” He then concluded that the First Amendment offered extensive protection to the media from defamation suits brought by private individuals—a principle that was later extended to apply to public figures as well. Defamation suits in his view could chill public debate.
There is an obvious tension between the efforts to secure deliberative democracy and those to provide extensive constitutional protection of caustic speech. That tension came to a head in two recent free speech incidents on university campuses. At Berkeley recently, an organized group of armed protesters overwhelmed local police officers and turned what was a peaceful protest by many Berkeley students against the provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos into a violent attack against persons and property. The protestors shut down Yiannopoulos’s lecture and have so far escaped any police or university punishment for their misdeeds. A similar incident happened just over a month later at Middlebury College, where student protestors violently silenced the thoughtful conservative social scientist Charles Murray, who had been invited to speak before a Republican student group.http://www.hoover.org/research/mob-censorship-campus