In January of 1987, flyers distributed anonymously at the University of Michigan declared “open season” on black people, referring to them with the most disgusting racial slurs. “Shortly thereafter,” Catherine B. Johnson noted in a law journal article, “a student disc jockey for the campus radio station allowed racist jokes to be told on-air. In response to these incidents, students at the University staged a demonstration to voice their opposition. The rally, however, was interrupted by the display of a Ku Klux Klan uniform dangling out of a nearby dormitory window.”Everyone is best served by a rigorous defense of all our rights. When we tolerate warrantless wiretapping because we are afraid of terrorists, or police misconduct because we are afraid of crime, or campus speech codes because we are afraid of racism, we all lose. The rights you are willing to take from other people will one day be taken from you.
Students in Ann Arbor were understandably upset and outraged by the racist climate created by these events. Administrators decided to respond by implementing a speech code. Thereafter, racist incidents kept occurring on campus at the same rate as before. And before the speech code was struck down 18 months later as a violation of the First Amendment, white students had charged black students with offensive speech in 20 cases. One “resulted in the punishment of a black student for using the term ‘white trash’ in conversation with a white student,” the ACLU later reported, explaining its position that “speech codes don't really serve the interests of persecuted groups. The First Amendment does.”
Thursday, November 12, 2015
Never Compromise the First Amendment