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December 09, 2005

Confusion on "Free Speech"

I appreciate Marc Cooper praising me for my post on why law schools should lose their case on military recruitment.

But I think he misses the politics of why I'm glad the military will be on campus each year. Instead of the administration quietly keeping them away, the military will be there every year-- forcing students to organize protests and, yes, even jeer them to highlight the problems with the military's anti-gay policies.

Marc thinks students jeering Ann Coulter violates free speech. But "free speech" is not about those with power getting uncontested control of the podium. If the government forces the military to have the equivalent of a podium at law schools, it's free speech for those who oppose their presence to have a chance to make that opposition known, and not just in polite little signs or meek little questions.

Frankly, if someone like Coulter gets jeered or even driven from one podium, that's hardly censorship. In fact, as Marc's piece illustrates, it's usually a one-way ticket to even more publicity of the person's views. So street protest has a self-correcting feature-- pick a worthy target for denuniciation and you convey a message of disapproval that may resonate. Act like idiots and shout down a reasonable view and your protest has just helped the person shout their views even louder to the rest of the world.

That's the beauty of real free speech. Speech and counter-speech correct each other. And all kinds of speech count, including jeering and raucus behavior by those who don't control the podium and may need less academic means than Marc might prefer to make their point.

University podiums are -- as the lawsuit this week makes clear -- a government-subsidized position of privilege. For those excluded from that government-subsized privilege, jeering may be the only way to make opposition to the speech widely known.

So while individual instances of jeering can be denounced on its merits -- since politeness should be the norm unless there's a good reason otherwise -- just deeming anyone engaging in such jeering to be "little fascists" is wrong.

Posted by Nathan at December 9, 2005 09:34 AM