Coronavirus and Free Speech

It appears that the Coronavirus is giving a lot of us extra time by self (so far) quarantining and encouraging limited public contact. Possibly as a result, I received a communication from Greg Lukianoff, the president and CEO of FIRE announcing that he is starting his own blog hosted at that organization’s website. The communication included an essay that is both timely and ongoing entitled “Coronavirus and the Failure of the Marketplace of Ideas.”

Here is an excerpt

For just over a hundred years, when we have talked about freedom of speech and the First Amendment, the dominant metaphor has been the “marketplace of ideas.” This metaphor was the brainchild of the eminently brainy Oliver Wendell Holmes in his “Great Dissent” in the 1919 Supreme Court case Abrams v. United States. Justice Holmes was late to appreciate the value of free speech, but became convinced of its value in no small part due to his Darwinist outlook on the world. He envisioned the marketplace of ideas as an arena in which “fit” ideas battle unfit ones for survival.
This metaphor is vivid, relatable, memorable … and wrong.

… the “marketplace” metaphor doesn’t really capture free speech’s most fundamental function:: Freedom of speech gives you a fighting chance to know the world as it really is.

Lukianoff’s explanation in its entirety is available here.

For those who have not heard of it, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, known by its acronym, is an organization that promotes freedom of speech on college campuses, both for faculty and students. It was founded in 1998 by University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors and criminal defense lawyer Harvey Silverglate (who wrote Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent). Kors and Silverglate together authored The Shadow University: the Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. That book exposed the pervasiveness of orthodoxy and “political correctness” at colleges and universities, where administrations squelched free expression of ideas through various speech codes, and some faculty members enforced dissent by threats of poor grades to students.

FIRE has fought restrictive speech codes, and the unconstitutional deprivation of freedom of speech rights at public universities by legal action, and at private institutions by exposing their failure to live up their professed academic freedom. The FIRE rates universities and colleges throughout the United States by assigning them color-coded ratings: red, yellow, and green, depending on their commitment or lack thereof to free speech and the restrictiveness of their speech code, if any. There is also a blue rating for institutions that affirmatively profess their values and goals are higher than any commitment to freedom of expression. Those include the service academies, for what appear to be obvious reasons. In Texas it is noteworthy that Baylor University in Waco, founded as and continues to be a religiously oriented institution, also has a blue rating.

The FIRE is non-partisan and non-ideological, except for its commitment to free speech expression, regardless of where the speaker sits on the political right-left. Kors and Silverglate came from different sides of the center, though not extreme, of that spectrum.

Martha and I have supported the FIRE with donations and intelligence for the past 20 years. Its website is https://www.thefire.org

 

 

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