Friday, April 13, 2012

Tacit approval to the silencing of minority voices

Maverick Couch attends high school in Waynesville, Ohio. The school principal told him he couldn't wear a t-shirt with the slogan, "Jesus is not a homophobe." Lambda Legal sued and the principal backed down. That leads Ari Ezra Waldman to ask if pro-gay t-shirts in a high school are permitted under free speech, are anti-gay shirts also protected?

Waldman says no. There is a difference between a slogan that is identity-affirming and one that is identity-harassment. The latter attacks communities and attaches social stigma to the victims.

Student free speech issues are affected by for rulings by the Supremes. One says speech is protected as long as it doesn't cause "substantial disruption" or "infringed on the rights of others." The other three cases define exceptions: if the speech could be seen as an official pronouncement by the school, if the speech promoted drugs, or if it was lewd. All could be banned.

Waldman says that an identity-harassment message does cause substantial disruption. It victimizes a class, interferes with teaching, classroom discipline, and school reputation.
Identity-based harassing speech differs from tolerant speech on controversial topics, then, because a school that countenances the former is a sick school, one that teaches hate and incivility, that gives tacit approval to the silencing of minority voices, and that fails to prepare students for a civic-minded adulthood in a republic.
My friend and debate partner has noted (more than once) that the answer to objectionable free speech is more free speech. A commenter mentioned this argument. Waldman says that is the classic liberal view of free speech. He continues (alas, without caps):
i disagree with that rationale. the first amendment was never an individual right, it was teleological, purpose-driven, meant by the framers as a simple limit on federal power, not the states power to make sure discourse aimed at achieving virtue in the body politic. this perspective does not think the right is in the person, instead the right is responsible to the group.
I'm not sure what that means, so I won't try to explain it to you.

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