All posts tagged: free speech

The Floridian Inquisition

I’m an attorney representing a professor at the University of Central Florida who is being subjected by the university to what can only be called an inquisition after expressing opinions on Twitter that led to widespread calls for his firing. UCF is a public institution—an instrument of the state—and is now bringing its full power to bear against a man who dared to question the prevailing orthodoxy that has quickly descended over so many of this country’s institutions. I cannot bear witness to what the university is doing to this man without speaking out against it. If we do not challenge this egregious abuse of power, things will only get worse. Professor Charles Negy is a wonderfully eccentric man, someone who teaches extraordinarily controversial subjects—Cross-Cultural Psychology and Sexual Behavior—with bluntness and humor. He is exactly the kind of professor you want in college: someone who is passionate about his subject, who will challenge your deeply-held assumptions, and who encourages free and open discussion in the classroom. Negy’s bluntness has occasionally ruffled feathers over the years, …

Cancel Culture and the Republican Concept of Liberty

In June, an opinion piece published in the New York Times by Senator Tom Cotton arguing for federal troops to rein in the protests in Minneapolis sparked a political firestorm. The piece led to the firing of the editor in charge and a rare corrective from the op-ed department. The Times’s institutional response is now a familiar pattern in recent months. It reflects a wider cultural phenomenon, whereby those who espouse controversial or hateful opinions (either in the past or the present) can be punished by affiliated institutions. Cancel culture refers to the practice of pressuring institutions in the hopes that they punish a member with a controversial public profile. At the start of the #MeToo era, the targets of cancellation were often figures that had conducted themselves in morally reprehensible or inappropriate ways. Since then, however, the targets of cancellation have broadened significantly to include those who espouse controversial views. In this arena, cancel culture abandons debate and argumentation in favor of an institutional sanction. The essence of cancel culture lies herein: a form …

My Book Defending Free Speech Has Been Pulled

I recently completed a book defending free speech. Emerald Press scheduled it for publication but then decided not to proceed. Here’s what it said about the book in Emerald’s September 2019 catalogue: In Defense of Free Speech: The University as Censor Author James R. Flynn, University of Otago, New Zealand Synopsis: The good university is one that teaches students the intellectual skills they need to be intelligently critical—of their own beliefs and of the narratives presented by politicians and the media. Freedom to debate is essential to the development of critical thought, but on university campuses today free speech is restricted for fear of causing offence. In Defense of Free Speech surveys the underlying factors that circumscribe the ideas tolerated in our institutions of learning. James Flynn critically examines the way universities censor their teaching, how student activism tends to censor the opposing side and how academics censor themselves, and suggests that few, if any, universities can truly be seen as ‘good.’ In an age marred by fake news and social and political polarization, In …

No, Jonathan Haidt is Not Like a Slavery Apologist

Eve Fairbanks, in an essay for the Washington Post, argues that many of the writers on the so-called “reasonable right,” a group that includes such seemingly benign figures as Bari Weiss and Jonathan Haidt, are making many of the same arguments and using much the same language as proslavery advocates in the American South: The reasonable right’s rhetoric is exactly the same as the antebellum rhetoric I’d read so much of. The same exact words. The same exact arguments. Rhetoric, to be precise, in support of the slave-owning South. Fairbanks follows this breathless announcement by acknowledging that she is not accusing anyone of defending slavery, and that includes, weirdly enough, actual antebellum proslavery writers. “Proslavery rhetoricians talked little of slavery itself,” she writes. “Instead, they anointed themselves the defenders of ‘reason,’ free speech and ‘civility.’” This is a bit like smearing someone as a Nazi, then qualifying it with the claim that overt anti-Semitism was really quite atypical of Nazism. In her characterization of proslavery thought, Fairbanks has taken a line that not even the …

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 …

PODCAST 48: Professor Bruce Gilley on Anti-Conservative Bias on Campus

Toby Young talks to Bruce Gilley, professor of political science at Portland State, about not being able to get his course on conservative political thought approved by his faculty, and his efforts to fight back against progressive authoritarianism on campus. He recently published a piece in Quillette about why he set up the Oregon chapter of the National Association of Scholars.

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 …