Who gets to decide?

Christopher Terry

Recently, this newspaper and members of this campus decided that some constitutionally protected expression was the worst thing ever. The cause of all this trouble was not a campus march by neo-Nazis or even a visit from Westboro Baptist Church. No, what got our collective undies in a bunch? Paint … on a wall.

Some are now proposing that the University president — a state actor — limit “forceful” expression they disagree with. Setting aside the irony of using your speech rights to demand that others lose theirs, to illustrate how preposterous this request is, I will play your game with you.

As a staunch defender of first-amendment rights, I’m going to propose that your speech — demanding that the speech rights of others be curtailed, is also dangerous and hurtful. Under your premise, then, President Kaler should make an immediate move to ensure I don’t have to listen to your nonsense on this campus anymore. Sounds ridiculous when I say it like that? Yet, that’s exactly what students are now advocating for — limiting the speech of others just because they disagree with that speech.

You force ideas to stand or fall on their own merit by forcing them to compete in the marketplace of ideas. By protecting the worst kinds of speech, the Westboro, the racist, even the pornographer, we create a situation where important speech is automatically protected. Bigotry in all forms is a product of ignorance. The equation to defeat bigotry is not the addition of more ignorance, the solution is education. Likewise, the answer to speech you disagree with is more speech, not less. Students were right to force objectionable ideas into the open with discussion and protest, but to suggest we respond with restrictions on speech that some object to, that’s a slippery slope to a self-defeating demand.

Christopher Terry

Assistant Professor of Law and Ethics, University of Minnesota School of Journalism.

Editor’s Note: This letter has been edited for style conventions.