Incident Demonstrates Lack of First Amendment Ethos at the University of Maryland

By August 17, 2007

An article in The Examiner in Philadelphia notes a recent incident at the University of Maryland at College Park. A female student wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “I Stand for Israel” approached the register of the Maryland Food Collective, a store that rents space in the university student union, to purchase some culinary items. The clerk refused her business stating, “Your shirt offends me, I won’t ring you up.” Eventually another clerk took the student’s business. The student subsequently “apologized to the offended clerk and offered a chocolate cake as proof of the sincerity of her apology for being ‘offensive.’”
 
The article points out that FIRE gave the University of Maryland a red light Spotlight rating, FIRE’s worst, meaning that the school “clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” While the rating applies only to the school’s speech codes and not to its practices, such codes certainly send the wrong message about free speech and encourage incidents like these where students seem to believe they have a right not to be offended. As the article says: 

[M]ost college administrations have instituted official codes that silence all speech deemed by at least one hearer to be “hateful,” “offensive” or “insensitive.” These codes, which amount to intellectual and political suppression, are often vigorously enforced by administrators and enthusiastically defended by faculty members. Consequently, a nation of fractious, irascible soap boxers who dared anybody to shut them up is steadily being reduced to a pitiful assemblage of supine automatons. This decline of intellectual vigor is most visible on campuses where freedom of speech and thought were once cherished virtues. 

With speech codes that infantilize students as they are it should come as no surprise that it was the customer wearing the pro-Israel T-shirt who apologized instead of the crabby store clerk, who seems to have been incapable of encountering an idea with which she disagreed. Lesson to students? 

Forget the First Amendment. Just shut up and be politically correct, even if that empowers the speech police to tyrannize the academy. At least nobody will be “offended.”

Schools: University of Maryland – College Park