Richard Dawkins Draws Attention to ‘New Threats to Freedom’

By June 21, 2010

Thanks to Richard Dawkins for drawing attention to FIRE’s video on a FIRE case that Greg covers in the new book New Threats to Freedom. Greg provides a summary of the case and a reason to buy the book:

Back in 2005, Chris Lee, a student at Washington State University, set out to make a comedy musical that, in the tradition of South Park, offended as broad a spectrum of people as possible. Unfortunately for him, he succeeded. His musicala very loose parody of Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of the Christearned him protests, death threats, and even an organized attempt among administrators and students to disrupt the play.

I chose Chris’ story to open up my chapter in the new book, New Threats to Freedom … because it’s one of the best examples in my experience of campus administrations and students working together to try to silence speech they don’t like. My chapter, called "Students Against Liberty?", explores the long-term consequences of campus censorship, speech codes, and the failure to educate students about the importance of free speech.

Dawkins himself is just one of many people whose appearances on a college campus have sparked cries for censorship, instances of the heckler’s veto, or charges of unconstitutional extra "security" fees to keep potentially violent protesters from disrupting the speeches. Too many speakers to count are in the same club. One example is Israeli ambassador Michael Oren; the Los Angeles Times reports today on the discipline of a student group that disrupted a speech by Oren earlier this year.

What many of these cases have in common is a shameful level of intolerance. While a public university in the United States should be one of the freest places in the world, these censors and anti-free speech activists apparently have the idea that some ideas and some expressionbe it from anti-illegal immigration speakers or even an offensive comedy musicalare so evil that they should have no place on a college campus. Sustained, thoughtful, public criticism of others is valuable and essential because it serves the marketplace of ideas, but interfering with someone else’s free speech crosses the line.