Opinion Columnist Emma Camp wrote an article last week decrying campus progressives’ “authoritarian” concerns with free speech. I agree more broadly with the need to reject sympathy for authoritarian regimes. To characterize the leftist desire to deplatform hateful speech as an authoritarian fear of disagreement, however, is to miss the point entirely.
There is potent irony in lamenting “dogmatic” progressives in one breath before swearing fealty to a vague, centuries-old doctrine in the next. Camp is correct that a public university must clear a very high bar in order to regulate speech. I will not argue for the legality of University action against hateful speech, but an appeal to the law in this case is lazy and irrelevant anyway. After all, there are plenty of illegal things that are morally acceptable.
I challenge free speech absolutists, who so frequently complain about college progressives, to see the flaws in a doctrine we’ve been raised to worship. The idea that a cross burned on a Black family's lawn by racist teenagers — protected on First Amendment grounds by the Supreme Court in R.A.V v. City of Saint Paul — is anything other than a catastrophic failure of institutional design demonstrates an unhealthy obsession with free speech purity. It is absurd to hold that the permissibility of targeted cross-burnings is necessary to an accountable State. According to Camp, however, such protection is anything but a flaw.
Camp's article fails to address the concern that those targeted by hate speech on Grounds are a captive audience being forced to endure psychological harm in order to get an education they've already paid for. It fails to demonstrate that the regulation of hate speech necessarily leads to an Orwellian suppression of all controversial speech, as has yet to occur in the countries where such regulations already exist. It also sorely lacks perspective — the idea that discomfort from hate speech amounts to a political disagreement rather than an attack on an individual's very right to existence betrays a lack of empathy for those experiencing it.
Finally, this obsession with the purity of free speech fails to account for information that is actively dangerous. Many purveyors in the marketplace of ideas are not operating in good faith. The riot at the U.S. Capitol was a direct result of misleading and inciteful language. The idea that it could have been averted if supporters of QAnon had simply been exposed to more, better speech alongside their calls to murder members of Congress is naive at best.
Logan Romberger is a third-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences.