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Speakers at GWU Must Promise Not To Be Hateful
Controversial Speaker Must Abstain From "Hate Speech" or Be Disinvited From the George Washington University
The irony is that he was invited in an effort to prove that free speech and academic freedom is still alive and well on the campus after the appearance of a well known rapper, selected by the official student body chosen to plan such events, was prohibited from appearing because some students objected to the lyrics in one of his songs.
Perhaps responding to the growing chorus of criticism of colleges which suddenly disinvite speakers when small groups of students don't want other students to hear what they have to say, this piece says that Milo Yiannopoulos "should be allowed to come to GW, but he shouldn't be allowed to target minorities within our student population. Before Yiannopoulos comes, he should assure students and administrators that he will not actively engage in hate speech at GW."
But this editorial's author seems to be under the same delusion that many of his colleagues share: that there is a "hate speech" exception to free speech.
But the Supreme Court has said time and again that there is no exception for hate speech under the First Amendment, and that even the most hateful of speech - the burning of the American flag, vile slurs of gays and others at funerals for soldiers - is protected, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
The editorial also suggests that the right of free speech "must be properly balanced with the inherent dignity of all people and their right to engage on campus without fear of threats or hateful speech"; a proposition repeatedly rejected as contrary to over 200 years of law in the United States, starting with the trial of John Peter Zenger which was hateful towards the lawful government.
"No group and no idea is above criticism and critical comment," says Banzhaf, who has fought against the suppression of free speech and for academic freedom at GWU as well as elsewhere.
Whatever position one takes regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, someone can claim it is hateful. Opposition to racial preferences on campus has been called hateful and racist even when voiced by well known African American scholars, just as speech questioning "rape culture" been condemned as hateful and misogynistic even when advanced by feminists, notes Banzhaf.
But all this comes as no surprise at a university which banned and almost expelled a student for briefly displaying an ancient religious symbol which was momentarily mistaken for a Nazi swastika - an expulsion which was only halted when GWU's action was universally condemned both here and abroad, and legal action against it and its officials was threatened.
Shortly thereafter, a student was required to take down a Palestinian flag when other students objected, even as many other similar flags with less controversial messages were ignored, says Banzhaf.
Students who don't want to be exposed to ideas contrary to their own, or which they find derogatory to their group, should stay away or stage events with other messages, but even the most controversial speakers shouldn't be muzzled by promises to engage in only political correct speech, he says.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
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