Could Jesus Crack Campus Speech Codes?

Absent a miracle, neither Moses nor Christ could crack the speech codes enforced by self-anointed censors operating at the majority of American colleges and universities today.

In “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, writing for the September 2015 issue of the Atlantic, document the demise of First Amendment rights on college campuses and why it’s “disastrous for education and mental health”:

“Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. …Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. … Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. … The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally.” 

A video taken Nov. 6 on the Silliman campus of Yale shows (trigger alert!) a woman screaming obscenities in the face of the campus master. He and his wife, also a Yale professor, had suggested in an e-mail that the grown-up response to seeing culturally “insensitive” Halloween costumes is to deal with it personally and respectfully, which comports with Yale’s expectations of “tolerance”:

Yale’s commitment to freedom of expression means that when you agree to matriculate, you join a community where “the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox” must be tolerated. When you encounter people who think differently than you do, you will be expected to honor their free expression, even when what they have to say seems wrong or offensive to you.

Only time will tell if the First Amendment will survive, as protests at Yale continue and spread across the country over a host of issues.

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights, documents the pervasiveness of unconstitutional speech codes on campuses in its 2015 report, available here. Violations can result in serious disciplinary action. Numbers 2, 6, and 8 on FIRE’s 2014 list of the top 10 worst offenders are:

2. The U.S. Department of Education (Threat of withholding Title IX funding for violations.)

6. Brandeis University Acting on student demands, administrators rescinded its commencement invitation to feminist activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali due to her critical views on Islam. They also charged a Jewish student with “bullying, harassment, and religious discrimination” for challenging another student’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

8. Marquette University Administrators suspended a professor and cancelled his classes after he criticized a graduate instructor on his private blog for what “he viewed as her inappropriate suppression of certain viewpoints for in-class discussion, one student's opposition to same-sex marriage in particular.”

A sure-fire candidate for the top spot in 2015 will be the University of Missouri at Columbia. After days of student protests about “unsafe spaces” the student body vice president fearlessly ascended her soap box proclaiming that she’s had it with the First Amendment. The University police department fired off a hurtful missive urging:

“‘individuals who witness incidents of hateful and/or hurtful speech’ to call the police immediately and photograph the individuals involved, allowing the university to ‘take disciplinary action’ against offending students.”

Then there’s the administrative staff at Yale, Cornell, Vassar, Syracuse, and Oberlin desperate to provide a pacifier for an infantile student played by an undercover investigator. She described a copy of the U.S. Constitution as “triggering” and “oppressive.” After asking if it could be “shredded or something” as her therapy, officials are seen in compassionate compliance in the latest undercover videos produced by James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas.

The foregoing brings us to consider how campus free speech spoilers might respond to an announcement that Jesus will be next year’s commencement speaker. Their comments could sound something like this:

  • He won’t support “Boycott, Divest and Sanction. He totally identifies with Israel -- calls Himself the Son of David and the Messiah.
  • That book He quotes says the poor should work for welfare.
  • It threatens to increase global warming:

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”

“Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in His image.”

“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?”

“But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’”

Until some adults take the reins, campus progressives have taken us back to when speaking the truth can get you nailed.

Jan LaRue is senior legal analyst with the American Civil Rights Union.

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