All posts filed under: Free Speech

Free Speech Matters, Even When it’s Not Protected by the First Amendment

“The government isn’t involved, so it’s not a free speech issue.” Follow any debate over censorship these days, and one is likely to hear this misguided view stated repeatedly. It means, in effect, that free speech is a legal right against the government, but not a spirit or value that the broader society should honor. In an interview with Above the Law, First Amendment lawyer Ken White (of “Popehat” fame) colorfully articulates this perspective: Recently you see, from the Right, (and from some Libertarians), a tremendous amount of bullshit about “the spirit of free speech.” “The spirit of free speech” can be summarized as saying that not only is racist speech protected from prosecution and civil suits, it ought also be protected from other people’s response speech…. [N]ot only should they not be prosecuted (right) or sued (right), but it would be wrong to boycott them, shun them, encourage public condemnation of them that might cost them their job, and so forth, because that “chills speech.” Basically, the “spirit of free speech” people want a …

Theoterrorism versus Freedom of Speech—A Review

A review of Theoterrorism versus Freedom of Speech: From Incident to Precedent by Paul Cliteur, Amsterdam University Press, 250 pages (February, 2019) You will probably not have heard of the “Rudi Carrell Affair.” Paul Cliteur writes that this episode is largely unknown to the English-speaking world, and yet it changed history and marked the beginning of something new—the “theoterrorist suppression of free speech.” Carrell was a Dutch-born entertainer who hosted popular shows in Germany from the 1960s to the 1980s that reached 20 million people. Rudi’s Tagesshow (1981–87) lampooned famous personalities and politicians, including Willy Brandt, Nancy Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Helmut Kohl, and Margaret Thatcher. The episode transmitted on Sunday, February 15, 1987, included a short sketch in which women were shown throwing their underwear at Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini: While lampooning international figures—including the pope—was acceptable under the umbrella of freedom of expression, Carrell was about to discover that the same rules did not apply to a major figure of Islam. As Cliteur states: It is my claim that with this specific television fragment the …

Why I Want to Start a Free Speech Trade Union

Last April, the historian Niall Ferguson called for a NATO of the pen. Inspired by the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty in which 12 Western democracies agreed that “an armed attack against one or more…shall be considered an attack against them all,” he suggested that “professional thinkers—academics, public intellectuals, writers of any stripe” should sign a “Non-conformist Academic Treaty” in which they promise to come to each other’s defense if one of them is “called out” on social media or “investigated” by their employer. Among the victims of these modern-day witch-hunts Ferguson cited Bret Weinstein, Bruce Gilley, Nigel Biggar, Roland Fryer, Samuel Abrams, Peter Boghossian, Jordan Peterson, and Roger Scruton, and said the lesson was clear: “we either hang together or we hang separately.” This struck me as an excellent idea, but I could also see a practical difficulty. One of the reasons NATO succeeded in deterring Soviet expansion into Western Europe is because it didn’t require any individual country to make the first move in response to Soviet aggression. Rather, NATO provided an institutional framework …

Why I Set Up the Oregon Branch of the National Association of Scholars

I first turned to the aid of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) in 2016 after a “woke mob” of my students accused me of using the wrong gender pronoun for a student in a class. Peter Wood, the NAS president, stood ready to make the organization’s voice heard on the matter, privately to my university at first but publicly if the nonsense carried on. Fortunately it did not. But the experience left me profoundly aware of the importance of solidarity for scholars who still value pluralism and reason in the face of an increasingly intolerant and arrogant Left in the academy. I wanted to do what Peter had done for scholars and scholarship in my home state of Oregon. As a result, we agreed that I would build an Oregon chapter of the NAS. In any large country, national organizations work best with local chapters. If for no other reason, members of local chapters are more likely to meet and get to know one another—little platoons firing fusillades against the revolutionary armies attacking their …

How the Left Turned Words Into ‘Violence,’ and Violence Into ‘Justice’

Responding to news that journalist Andy Ngo had been beaten by antifa protestors in Portland last month, a woman named Charlotte Clymer tweeted that “Ngo intentionally provokes people on the left to drive his content. Being attacked today on video taken by an actual journalist (because Ngo is definitely not) is the greatest thing that could have happened to his career. You know it. I know it. He knows it. We all know it. Violence is completely wrong, and I find it sad and weak to allow a sniveling weasel like Andy Ngo to get under one’s skin like this, but I’m also not going to pretend this wasn’t Ngo’s goal from the start. I mean, let’s cut the shit here. This is what they do.” Who is Charlotte Clymer? She is an activist who works at the Human Rights Campaign, America’s “largest LGBTQ civil rights organization,” which supposedly “envision[s] a world where LGBTQ people are ensured equality at home, at work [and] in every community.” Andy Ngo, who has written for Quillette, the Wall …

Age of Amnesia

We live, as the Indian essayist Saeed Akhter Mirza has put it, in “an age of amnesia.” Across the world, most notably in the West, we are discarding the knowledge and insights passed down over millennia and replacing it with politically correct bromides cooked up in the media and the academy. In some ways, this process recalls, albeit in digital form, the Middle Ages. Conscious shaping of thought—and the manipulation of the past to serve political purposes—is becoming commonplace and pervasive. Google’s manipulation of algorithms, recently discussed in American Affairs, favors both their commercial interests and also their ideological predilections. Similarly, we see the systematic “de-platforming” of conservative and other groups who offend the mores of tech oligarchs and their media fellow travellers. Major companies are now distancing themselves from “offensive” reminders of American history, such as the Nike’s recent decision to withdraw a sneaker line featuring the Betsy Ross flag. In authoritarian societies, the situation is already far worse. State efforts to control the past in China are enhanced by America’s tech firms, who are …

Why China is Hiding the Horrors of Its Past

While the Chinese government continues to transform Xinjiang through its cultural genocide program aimed at eliminating the distinct identity of the Uyghur population, it is also putting a high priority on controlling the history of the region and its people. In October 2018, the state-run newspaper People’s Daily published an article outlining the official stance towards Xinjiang’s history, saying, “A correct understanding of the history of Xinjiang is not about examination of specific historical details. It is about a deep understanding of the Party Central Committee’s basic understanding, viewpoints and conclusions on issues related to Xinjiang’s history, culture, religion and so on, and enhancing our confidence in Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” The statement illustrates how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) generally regards the purpose of history. For the CCP, the purpose of historical study is not to understand past mistakes to ensure they are not repeated, an extremely important goal for a nation with the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward in the living memory of much of its population. The purpose of history …

Deplatforming Won’t Work

Last year Robert Bowers shot up a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing eleven people. Before committing this atrocity he wrote on Gab: “HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” Gab is a Twitter alternative used by many neo-Nazis and alt-righters who have been (or know they would be) banned from actual Twitter. The unintended—but entirely predictable—consequence of throwing extremists off Twitter has been to create a large community of exiles on Gab. In Gabland, it is people who question Jewish conspiracy theories or the idea that the US should be a white ethnostate who are considered “trolls.” A similar community is developing on the YouTube alternative BitChute, whose Alexa ranking is rising quickly. Bowers’s threat of imminent violence (“Screw your optics, I’m going in”) didn’t alarm any of his fellow extremists on Gab. What if he had written the same thing on Twitter? Someone would have been much more likely to contact the …

Stonewall’s LGBT Guidance is Limiting the Free Speech of Gender Critical Academics

In 2015, the main trade union for UK academics, the University and College Union (UCU), objected to the government’s newly announced counter-terrorism strategy—specifically, the part concerned with universities’ legal duty to attempt to prevent student radicalisation. A central aspect of UCU’s highly critical response concerned the use of ill-defined, imprecise words in the strategy. One UCU briefing noted that (my italics): it is important that branches become familiar with how the government defines ‘extremism’.. as follows: ‘Vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.’ Branches should note the somewhat nebulous nature of so described ‘British values’ and the potentially very broad range of individuals and groups who may at some point fall foul of such a negatively constructed definition. In a similar vein, a Professor and a senior lawyer expressed their concern that that the vagueness and lack of definition of terms like “terrorism,” “non-violent extremism,” “radicalisation,” and “fundamental British values” could be understood to mean that…academics and …

The Uncertain Boundaries of Corporate Morality

A deeply unusual public spectacle has been playing out in Australia for a number of weeks involving a prominent rugby player, a mangled bible verse, the rugby player’s wife, a crowdfunding platform, a major bank and a health insurance fund. All the elements of a terrible joke are present, yet the core of the matter—the messy intersection of legal freedom and corporate morality—is proving to be serious. Rugby player Israel Folau, domestic and international superstar, allegedly breached his contract with Rugby Australia by posting an adaptation of a bible verse to Instagram which suggested unrepentant homosexuals would ultimately find themselves in hell, alongside liars, adulterers, persons with tattoos, and a variety of other sinners. As a consequence of his refusal to remove the post, Folau’s lucrative contract with Rugby Australia was terminated. The legality of this decision has yet to be decided in court. The case has attracted immense interest and is already being touted as a potential landmark for freedom of religion and religious expression in the domain of Australian employment law and—to a …