Monday, November 9, 2015

Censorship envy

As the court wrote in a 1972 college student speech case (quoting Justice Hugo Black), First Amendment protection “must be accorded to the ideas we hate or sooner or later they will be denied to the ideas we cherish.”

One way that speech restrictions often grow is through what I call “censorship envy.” Say one group wins a ban on speech that it finds offensive. It’s human nature for other groups to then ask: What about speech that offends us — harsh criticism of Israel, or of certain religious belief systems, or of abortion, or of America?

Are we second-class citizens, whose feelings can be insulted with impunity, while other groups are protected? Are we weaklings who lack the power or status that the others have used to suppress the speech they hate? And if we’re not second-class weaklings, we demand the same “protection” from speech that offends us. That’s censorship envy, and it’s a powerful force supporting the growth of speech restrictions, at universities and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing many at universities, including student groups, administrators and even the federal Department of Education, trying to suppress student speech, again and again and again and again and again and again and again -- and the list could go on. Oddly, many of these restrictions come from political groups that see themselves as outsiders fighting the powerful. If that’s really so, how can they give the government extra censorship powers that can so easily be used against future “progressives” like them?