In ‘Pajamas Media,’ FIRE’s Robert Shibley Criticizes Censorship of ‘Hate Speech’ at UCSD

By on March 11, 2010

Today in Pajamas Media, FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley addresses the questionable effects of efforts to silence “hate speech” at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), rather than let it be judged in the harsh light of the marketplace of ideas.

Here’s his brief rundown of the controversy:

The impetus for the turmoil is the “Compton Cookout,” a “ghetto”-themed off-campus party involving a Las Vegas-based African American comedian who calls himself “Jiggaboo Jones.” The controversial party, held last month to “celebrate” Black History Month, was followed by the reported use of a racial slur on UCSD’s student television station, the hanging of a noose in the library, and the placement of a “Klan-style” pillowcase on a campus statue of Dr. Seuss, of all people.In response, UCSD has attempted to silence the “hate speech” on the grounds that it makes other students scared or uncomfortable. Associate Students President Utsav Gupta, apparently with the full backing of UCSD administrators, has frozen funding to 33 campus media outlets in order to silence one of them for making an offensive comment about the reaction to the “Compton Cookout” party on the student-run TV station. While no recording of the statement seems to exist, Kris Gregorian, editor in chief of the student “shock humor” publication The Koala, reportedly called those objecting to the party “ungrateful ni**ers.”

FIRE and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties have repeatedly condemned Gupta’s censorship as unconstitutional. But putting the Constitution aside for a moment (which Gupta has done anyway), is such a response good medicine for a community hurting for a real dialogue about the difficulties of race relations at UCSD? Does not having to see or hear the bilious statements of real racists in our midst make us any safer? Cui bono? Robert takes a story from FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate to explain how UCSD loses when it sweeps such speech under the rug:

As a young lawyer for the Massachusetts ACLU, FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate was called upon to defend a group of neo-Nazis who had committed no crime. He did so successfully, despite the group’s refusal to say even a word to him throughout the process because he is Jewish. It’s hard for me to imagine a more harrowing experience to have as a civil liberties attorney than to be called upon to defend those who, if they had the power to put their ideas into practice, would kill you. I therefore put a great deal of stock in what Harvey says about the ill wisdom of silencing hateful speech: “If there are Nazis in the room, I want to know who they are so that I can keep an eye on them.”

If racist speech is censored rather than exposed, it’s hard to know who the racists are and harder still to demonstrate the falsity of their ideas. Freedom of speech is what makes this awareness possible. On the other hand, censoring racist speech amounts to nothing more than a cover-up.

It remains to be seen just how costly a lesson this will be for the university. Read the rest of Robert’s article here, and visit our case page to learn more about FIRE’s fight against censorship at UCSD, and how you can help.

Schools: University of California, San Diego Cases: University of California at San Diego: First Amendment Violations at UCSD