It’s stunning how quickly the story in Columbia, Missouri, has turned from a debate about racism in the university community to a story about free speech—and attempts to limit it.
Most prominently, the video of a crowd intimidating a photographer—a student journalist—and attempting to block him from doing his job went viral. Tim Tai, the
voting on whether to strip Melissa Click—an assistant professor of communication shown calling for “muscle” to push a reporter out—of her “courtesy” appointment in journalism.) Suddenly, the focus of the University of Missouri story has become about free speech.
That’s even more true after an email Tuesday from university police.
The rest of the Atlantic article goes on to discuss the conflict between university officials wanting to provide a safe place for their students while not trampling on the requirements of the First Amendment that protects Free Speech. As any first year law student will tell you, a public university doesn't have the right to adopt rules and regulations that override the constitutional guarantees contained in the First Amendment.The University of Missouri is now threatening police force against speech. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/rex4XcB7Z1— Thomas Bradbury (@Thomas_Bradbury) November 10, 2015
Two law professors and the ACLU immediately raised constitutional problems introduced by the email:
"You can't restrict free speech based on concepts of decency," Davidson said. "The First Amendment is not to protect 'pretty' speech; it's designed to protect offensive speech."Gregory Magarian, a Washington University in St. Louis law professor who specializes in free-speech issues, said the vagueness of the email is problematic. The email only says that students should report "hateful and/or hurtful speech," but doesn't define what that is."One cardinal rule in law on deciding what speech can be restricted is: Don't be vague," Magarian said. "If you are trying to strike the balance between what is restricted and what is not, you can't be vague and you can't leave authorities with too much latitude to interpret what speech is OK, and what speech is not."..."It's important to make sure you don't chill, punish or deter speech that is protected and (speech) that doesn't fall into that zone of being threatening or unduly aggressive," Magarian said.On Tuesday night, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri voiced its "disappointment" in the new MU Police Department initiative."The ACLU of Missouri is disappointed with the recent request by the University of Missouri Police to report ‘hurtful speech,’ which simultaneously does too much and too little," Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement. "Racial epithets addressed to a specific person in a threatening or intimidating manner can be illegal, and may require action by police and/or university administrators. But, no governmental entity has the authority to broadly prohibit ‘hurtful’ speech — or even undefined ‘hateful’ speech, or to discipline against it."Unfortunately what is happening at the University of Missouri officials and students attempting to stamp out speech they deem "hurtful" and "offensive," and in doing trampling on the First Amendment, is taking place on college campuses all across the country. I would strongly recommend people read The Silencing, a book written by Kirsten Powers, a former staffer in the Clinton administration and current Fox News contributor, who documents the increasing liberal assault on free speech on college campuses.