by AndrewMc | 3/03/2010 06:00:00 AM
In the past few weeks there have been a number of incidents on campuses and in classrooms around the nation that touch on the thorny issue of freedom of speech.

This isn't a new issue—Universities and courts have been grappling with this since the campus protest movements of the 1960s.

But it seems that the problem has come into fresh relief recently. Below the fold I'll bring you a few cases of contested speech, some of which have developed into court cases, others of which I'm just pulling out in order to highlight.

I'll be interested to see what you think.

To my mind, college campuses, and to a lesser but still important degree the secondary classrooms, are a touchy place in which to contest the issue of freedom of speech. Especially on campuses, there should be even more leniency when it comes to freedom of speech.

A college campus exists as a cauldron of ideas. It is a place where ideas and issues should be debated without fear of recrimination or persecution. A campus is a place where extra care should be given to allow people to voice crazy, wild, profound, useless and useful ideas, and where counter debate can go on.

Here's the first of the free speech issues. My own opinion is that the speech here is protected. What do you say?

Every few minutes during a talk last week at the University of California at Irvine, the same thing happened. A student would get up, shout something critical of Israel, be applauded by some in the audience, and be led away by police.

The speaker -- Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States -- was repeatedly forced to stop his talk. He pleaded for the right to continue, and continued. University administrators lectured the students and asked them to let Oren speak. In the end, 11 students were arrested and they may also face charges of violating university rules.

Those who interrupted Oren, not surprisingly, are strong critics of Israel who believe that they must draw attention to the Palestinian cause. But an argument put forward by some national Muslim leaders in the last week has sent the discussion in a new direction. Those groups maintain that interrupting a campus speech -- even repeatedly -- should be seen as a protected form of speech.

OK, how about here?

MIAMI — A South Florida teenager who sued her former principal after she was suspended for creating a Facebook page criticizing a teacher can proceed with her lawsuit, a federal judge has ruled.

The student, Katherine Evans, is seeking to have her suspension expunged from her disciplinary record. School officials suspended her for three days, saying she had been “cyberbullying” the teacher, Sarah Phelps. Ms. Evans is also seeking a “nominal fee” for what she argues was a violation of her First Amendment rights, her lawyers said, and payment of her legal fees.

Is this protected speech?

It also seems to me that school officials are quick to overreact to almost any perceived threat. But the schools' intrusions into students lives seems to go far beyond the need to maintain discipline while providing an education.

Consider these two cases, where school administrators confess to using school-donated laptops to spy on children in their homes. The justification is that the school purchase the laptops, and the kids are supposed to be doing homework. OK, I understand that we want to kids to do the assigned work. But spying on them through a remote camera in their own homes? Without their knowledge?

I'm wondering about the path down which this nation has wandered with regards to free speech and privacy. It probably pre-dates 9/11, but since then we have casually accepted governmental intrusion into even the most mundane aspects of our lives. And far from any kind of outrage, what we see is a broad tolerance. Even justification.

There's a bit of outcry over the school administrators' spying on minors, and the ACLU is involved. But in newspapers and news shows this trend has gotten very little attention.

Are we more generally tolerant of government subversion of freedom of speech and privacy? I think there's something to be said for the idea that the United States is trending towards a police state. Or at least towards one in which police tactics are tolerated and seen as OK.

Consider the recent 9th Circuit Court court decision, which essentially invented new law by allowing police to enter your home without any warrant.

Or the practice on the part of New York police officers of stopping anyone they can in order to get their names into a criminal database.

What on earth is going on here?

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Blogger Winter Rabbit on 3/03/2010 7:05 PM:

My opinion, is that the Military Commissions Act has been law for too long. I remember the day it passed and the article the NYT wrote about the death of America. I expect it to get worse as more people are in positions of power who don't remember what it was like before 9-11, even before the OKC Bombing. And the DOJ just let everyone off the hook. The school can spy because the NSA can spy. They can arrest a student for speaking out against Israel's colonizing the West Bank, because they'll never be brought to justice, and remember the professor who worked for BYU and lost his job for his research about 9-11? The MCA has been law for too long, and what really happened to the officers who threw protesters into Pier 57? Clinton being impeached - those were the good 'ol days. Like someone said over at Kos, "We've entered the Age of Stupid."


Blogger AndrewMc on 3/04/2010 3:52 PM:

I couldn't agree more. People are too comfortable with the idea of the government being able to arrest someone for no reason.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 3/04/2010 8:27 PM:

Part of the problem is a failure to think things through: people want freedom to do or say anything, but they also want something done if someone else does something harmful or hateful. And our tolerance for risk is nil, so we're more inclined to over-react (if it's public).

Freedom is a balance, and there are risks. Otherwise, it's not freedom.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 3/04/2010 8:27 PM:

This comment has been removed by the author.


Blogger AndrewMc on 3/05/2010 8:26 AM:

Well put.


Blogger mark on 3/06/2010 2:40 PM:

Were the protestors intending to exercise free speech or prevent Oren's?

Protesting his speech outside or holding a rally is ok. So is challenging Oren during question time. Organized interruption of his speech is an attempt to suppress free speech, which was the protestor's intent. What was novel here was that they were properly not permitted to do so by the owners of the venue, the university. Good. Normally, the campus Left gets to shout down ppl they disagree with and prevent them from being heard.

My right to free speech is to argue with you, not to prevent you from being able to argue your point. Even less do I have the right to prevent you from arguing on your own front porch by trespassing.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 3/07/2010 12:08 PM:

Protesting his speech outside or holding a rally is ok. So is challenging Oren during question time.

You're apparently unable or unwilling to distinguish between being impolite and supressing speech. The protesters interrupted the speech about a half dozen times, for about a minute each. Yeah, it was rude. Was it a fundamental violation of the speaker's rights?

I'm not convinced.

On the other hand, the university is generally within its rights to enforce standards of civility at official functions.... assuming that this was an official function to which such rules would reasonably apply. I'm utterly unconvinced, however, that the university's police authority extends to enforcing standards of civility, or that "disturbing the peace" is actually a consitutionally defensible charge.


Blogger mark on 3/12/2010 5:51 PM:

It's not rudeness, Ahistoricality, It's calculated and organized disruption."Rudeness" is a nonsense term to wave away what was actually happening.

As far as disruptions go, the protestors were more restrained than many I have witnessed where the objective was to prevent the speech from being heard. My expectations, is that the charges ultimately would be dropped in most jurisdictions.


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