The dangerous precedent of the Oklahoma University expulsions

It is necessary to stipulate up front that the anti-black Oklahoma University fraternity chanting captured on a cellphone and posted to social media is repulsive, racist, and worthy of censure by all sentient beings.  What follows is in no way a defense of that behavior.  But it is important for the grown-ups to take a step back from the emotions of the moment and think about the precedent that is being set when students are expelled for speech.

One of the very few grown-ups willing to stand up in the hurricane-force winds of outrage is Eugene Volokh, professor of law and Washington Post blogger.  I find his argument convincing.  He writes:

Consider the president’s statement to the students: “You will be expelled because of your leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.” Similar things could be said about a vast range of other speech.

Students talking to each other about a student group event about how Hamas has it right? (The Charter of Hamas, recall, expressly says, “The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: ‘The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.’ (related by al-Bukhari and Moslem).”) Why, that could be labeled leading an anti-Semitic and exclusionary discussion that, once it’s publicized on campus, creates a hostile educational environment for Jews.

Black students talking to each other about how all whites are racist, and white cops — and maybe other whites — should get shot? Again, that could be labeled racist and exclusionary speech that, when publicized, can create a hostile educational environment for whites. (snip)

There is, as I’ve mentioned before, no First Amendment exception for supposed “hate speech.” But if there is such an exception, there certainly is no First Amendment foundation for distinguishing speech that is actually or supposedly anti-black from speech that is anti-white, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Catholic, anti-women, or anti-men. If the University of Oklahoma president’s position is accepted as legally sound, then there’d be no legal basis for protecting the other kinds of speech while expelling students for this sort of speech.

Yes, the chants were hurtful (though they were done in private and not intended to be shown in public), and yes, slavery and Jim Crow are unique evils in the history of our nation.  But we are on a dangerous path.  Back in 1964, the wave of campus activism that eventually turned our universities into left-wing bastions was sparked in the name of “free speech.”  We have come full circle, and free speech is the last thing that campuses want to defend.

It is necessary to stipulate up front that the anti-black Oklahoma University fraternity chanting captured on a cellphone and posted to social media is repulsive, racist, and worthy of censure by all sentient beings.  What follows is in no way a defense of that behavior.  But it is important for the grown-ups to take a step back from the emotions of the moment and think about the precedent that is being set when students are expelled for speech.

One of the very few grown-ups willing to stand up in the hurricane-force winds of outrage is Eugene Volokh, professor of law and Washington Post blogger.  I find his argument convincing.  He writes:

Consider the president’s statement to the students: “You will be expelled because of your leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.” Similar things could be said about a vast range of other speech.

Students talking to each other about a student group event about how Hamas has it right? (The Charter of Hamas, recall, expressly says, “The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: ‘The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.’ (related by al-Bukhari and Moslem).”) Why, that could be labeled leading an anti-Semitic and exclusionary discussion that, once it’s publicized on campus, creates a hostile educational environment for Jews.

Black students talking to each other about how all whites are racist, and white cops — and maybe other whites — should get shot? Again, that could be labeled racist and exclusionary speech that, when publicized, can create a hostile educational environment for whites. (snip)

There is, as I’ve mentioned before, no First Amendment exception for supposed “hate speech.” But if there is such an exception, there certainly is no First Amendment foundation for distinguishing speech that is actually or supposedly anti-black from speech that is anti-white, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Catholic, anti-women, or anti-men. If the University of Oklahoma president’s position is accepted as legally sound, then there’d be no legal basis for protecting the other kinds of speech while expelling students for this sort of speech.

Yes, the chants were hurtful (though they were done in private and not intended to be shown in public), and yes, slavery and Jim Crow are unique evils in the history of our nation.  But we are on a dangerous path.  Back in 1964, the wave of campus activism that eventually turned our universities into left-wing bastions was sparked in the name of “free speech.”  We have come full circle, and free speech is the last thing that campuses want to defend.