It’s been a busy week for the self-appointed speech police on college campuses; Monday saw protests not only in the U.S. at Lewis & Clark Law School but also in London at King’s College. The incident at Lewis & Clark is particularly interesting because not only did it take place at a law school — a student population that should, by any reasonable definition, know better — but also because the university’s response to the protest signaled not just acquiescence, but tacit approval.
The Lewis & Clark Law School event, hosted by the school’s Federalist Society, featured Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; as Sommers and others documented, nine student groups — the National Lawyers Guild Lewis & Clark Student Chapter, the Minority Law Student Association, the Women’s Law Caucus, the Immigration Student Group, the Jewish Law Society, OutLaw, the Lewis & Clark Young Democratic Socialists of America, the Black Law Student Association, and the Latino Law Society — protested the event after their demand that the Federalist Society rescind their invitation was ignored. They asserted that:
“Free speech is certainly an important tenet to a free healthy society, but that freedom stops when it has a negative and violent impact on other individuals.”
Sadly, these law students are incorrect. While their rhetoric may be lofty, it is not grounded in the facts; although courts have found a few discrete instances of prohibited speech — such as true threats and incitement — those examples are specifically defined, and in no way apply to Ms. Sommers’ speech.
But legal details aside, the spirit of their activism is sadly misguided — as decades of progressive jurisprudence proves.
The protesters seem to forget that free speech has traditionally been the means by which disenfranchised populations and minority groups have been able to gain support for their platforms — because this was the most powerful tool at their disposal.