My Own Pie

Libertarian Thoughts from Renaissance Guy

Watch your Mouth

with 2 comments

     This post is an entry in the blog contest responding to the new book, New Threats to Freedom edited by Adam Bellow. The contest is open to all and further information can be found here.


     Speech codes on college campuses are one of the biggest threats to freedom in the United States today.  They are, on their face, contrary to the right to free speech.

     The University of Wisconsin has a speech code, but it is not alone.  The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education discovered 270 institutions of higher learning that have speech codes in 2010. 

     Isn’t it sad that there even has to be a foundation tracking these First Amendment violations?

      Before you tell me that free speech is not absolute, let me grant that point.  I agree with court rulings that some kinds of speech should not be permitted.  These things have been hashed out already–no yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, no slander, no libel, no harassment, and no fighting words. 

     Speech codes do not prohibit only those excepted categories of speech.  Bryn Mawr’s speech code, for instance, prohibits “offensive or degrading remarks.”  In direct contradiction, the same policy document states that “[t]he College is firmly committed to academic and professional excellence and to freedom of inquiry and expression for all members of the College community.”

     Don’t get me wrong.  I am not defending or excusing offensive or degrading remarks.  I am defending the right to make such remarks without fear of official reprisal.  I am sure that the Founding Fathers of the United States had some choice names for King George III that were offensive and degrading, and that is exactly the right that they codified in the First Amendment–the right to say things that somebody else, especially somebody in power, finds offensive.

     Since speech codes offend me, shouldn’t somebody be punished for instituting them?

     One problem with speech codes is that they give power to the “offended” party.  If somebody were to say that musicians are stupid, I would find it offensive, as I am an amateur musician.  A speech code would allow me to use the power of the college administrators to get back at the person who offended me.  Honestly, it’s a lot like childhood tattling.  Honestly, it does not harm me in the least to hear somebody say that musicians are stupid.  I learned long ago that comments like that say more about the speaker than about their target.  College students are certainly old enough to learn that lesson.

     In my example, the remark was clearly derogatory; however, speech codes, by their vagueness, could result in worse violations of rights.  I could be offended because somebody says that they admire Che Guevara.   Shouldn’t that person have the right to admire him and to express that admiration?  Then what right do I have to use the power of the university leaders to punish that person because I am offended?  The Constitution does not guarantee that people will never be offended.

     Many people believe that professors, who are employees of universities, should have intellectual  and academic freedom.  How much more so should the students, who are essentially the customers? 

     For the sake of freedom, speech codes should be abolished.


Written by ambrosianideas

July 23, 2010 at 4:06 am

Posted in Miscellaneous

2 Responses

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  1. […] You can read my essay, “Watch Your Mouth,” on my other […]

  2. I agree. Freedom of speech should be virtually absolute on college campuses. Speech codes are contrary to academic values and the free exchange of ideas.

    Scott Erb

    July 27, 2010 at 3:50 am

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