Finally, a Positive Free Speech Story from Bucknell

By on October 11, 2010

Bucknell University has been under a lot of heat from FIRE recently for refusing to amend the speech policies it used to shut down three of the Bucknell University Conservative Club’s events last year. Between August 31 and October 8, we wrote President John Bravman a letter urging him to amend Bucknell’s restrictive speech codes, designated Bucknell as a "Red Alert" school for the second consecutive year, wrote four blog posts (here, here, here, and here) and distributed a press release about Bucknell’s free speech abuses, criticized its policies on a local Pennsylania radio station, and erected our first-ever billboard warning people about the state of free speech at Bucknell on Route 15 near campus.

The Bucknell administration clearly doesn’t support free speech, but at least one student does. On September 28, Eric Soble published an article in The Bucknellian affirming the importance of free speech. His main argument is that people must learn to separate belief from action. He says:

One way to solve this problem is by separating action from belief and speech. I think we all can agree criminal actions against persons of any color or shape deserve punishment and chastisement. However, belief and speech are fundamentally different from action. No matter how absurd or offensive speech or a belief may be, they are peaceful expressions, so long as they do not threaten or imply force.

We couldn’t agree more. The best way to combat an idea that you find offensive or hateful is with open dialogue. That way, you might learn that the opposing viewpoint has some merit, or expose how ridiculous it truly is. As Soble argues:

[F]reedom [of speech] presents a difficult problem for those of us who wish to be part of an accepting, tolerant community: we cannot criminalize ideas, yet we wish to discourage hateful expressions of bigotry and prejudice. The solution to this does not come from "stopping hate," but by encouraging a more open dialogue. If these hateful people were allowed to speak publicly about their beliefs, their positions would automatically be discredited. Everyone should have the right to make him or herself look like an idiot.

Just like we often do at FIRE, Soble quotes Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis on the point that "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." FIRE has already exposed Bucknell’s administration to much sunlight, yet we have received no response. Let’s hope that Eric Soble and other like-minded individuals start shining a light on Bucknell University from within and disinfect its immoral speech policies.

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