Supporters and Enemies of Freedom of Speech

©2014 Kenneth N. Margolin

In the article posted on this web site, titled, “College Students Must Demand Free Speech – Again,” I urge college students at public universities whose constitutional rights to free speech are suppressed by administrators who abuse disciplinary codes in the name of censorship, to fight back. I support an expansive view of our First Amendment freedoms, as does the United States Supreme Court. But the Constitution can be changed – thankfully, with great difficulty – and judicial interpretations can reverse course. I’ve provided my opinion on campus free speech, and will continue to do so. Following are contrasting quotes in favor of and in opposition to speech with few restrictions, save public safety. Read them, and decide your own vision of speech on American college campuses. I would love to hear from you with your opinions.

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)

[In order to create freedom for the oppressed] “... certain things cannot be said, certain ideas cannot be expressed, certain policies cannot be proposed, certain behavior cannot be permitted without making tolerance an instrument for the continuation of servitude.” Repressive Tolerance, Essay by Herbert Marcuse, 1965.

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)

“Students are expected to .. be civil to one another and to others in the campus community .... Student behavior that is not consistent with the Student Conduct Code [may result in] appropriate consequences.”

From the San Francisco State University Student Conduct & Disciplinary Code

“I propose the withdrawal of all hate speech legislation in Europe. I propose a European First Amendment. Of course, calling for violence or unjustly yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre have to be punished, but the right to criticize ideologies or religions are necessary conditions for a vital democracy.”

Excerpt from a speech given by Geert Wilders, controversial Dutch politician who wrote the film Fitna. The film juxtaposes passages from the Quran with news clips of attacks by Islamic terrorists and ends by warning that Europe is in danger of being overrun by fundamentalist Muslims. Wilders was charged criminally for violating Holland’s anti-hate speech laws.

“I condemn, in the strongest terms, the airing of Geert Wilders’ offensively anti-Islamic film. There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. The right of free expression is not at stake here. Freedom must always be accompanied by social responsibility.”

Statement of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, supporting the Dutch Government’s attempt to ban showing of the Geert Wilder film, Fitna .

“Damn all expurgated books; the dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book.”

Walt Whitman

“Through a succession of firsthand experiences, this editor gradually concluded that an epithet-free edition of Twain’s books (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn) is necessary today.... Consequently in this edition I have translated each usage of the n-word to read “slave” instead .... Although the text loses some of the caustic sting that the n-word carries, that price seems small compared to the revolting effect that the more offensive word has on contemporary readers.”

Excerpt from Alan Gribben’s Introduction to the NewSouth Publishers modified version of Mark Twain’s books, in which Gribben Substitutes Mark Twain’s use 219 times, of the word “nigger” with the word, “slave.”

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, at a speech to the Author’s Guild Council, in New York City ,December 3, 1951.

“Academia ... has traditionally been dominated by white heterosexual men, and the First Amendment and Academic Freedom traditionally have protected the rights of white heterosexual men. Most of us are silenced by existing social conditions before we get the power to speak out in any way where First Amendment Freedoms might protect us. So forgive us if we don’t get all teary-eyed about First Amendment Freedoms. Perhaps to you it’s as sacrosanct as the flag or the national anthem; to us strict construction of the First Amendment is just another yoke around our necks.”

Barbara White, University of New Hampshire Professor of Women’s Studies, advocating for campus speech codes prohibiting speech deemed demeaning to women and minorities.

“Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.”

Salman Rushdie, author of the Book, The Satanic Verses

“I would like to inform all intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur'an, and those publishers who were aware of its contents, are sentenced to death....”

Fatwa (religiously-inspired Islamic death sentence) on Salman Rushdie, issued by Ayatollah Rullah Musavi al-Khomeini, spiritual leader of Iran, February 14, 1989.