Wendy Kaminer, “Hate Speech,” and Campus Censorship

November 30, 2010

Check out Wendy Kaminer’s great column, "Debating Hate Speech," over at The Atlantic:

Last week I engaged in an online Intelligence Squared debate about hate speech with Femi Otitoju, a British diversity consultant and unwavering advocate of hate speech legislation. I’ve participated in many similar debates over the years, but this was the first that left me feeling grateful to be an American. I’ve often used my speech rights to lament declining support for free speech in this country, especially on college and university campuses and especially among progressives; but if Otitoju’s views are at all representative of popular or elite opinion in Britain, then, by comparison, America is practically a Millsian paradise (if you stay out of academia and off of government blacklists).

Wendy is a steadfast defender of free speech and, as readers of my columns know, she is absolutely right when she singles out colleges as being especially bad at protecting speech. Indeed, universities offer countless examples of what happens when you give actual people the power to censor. It turns out that, just as John Stuart Mill would have predicted, censors tend to target speech they simply dislike or disagree with, whether that speech happens to be an irreverent comedy musical, anti-terrorist artwork, anti-gun control protests, an environmentalist collage, or a speech by Richard Dawkins, just to name a few.

And as Wendy points out, there are deeper principles at stake than simply the near certainty that such attempts to regulate speech will be abused. Rather than launch into the deep philosophy that makes free speech so important and so wise, I recommend checking out Jonathan Rauch’s brilliant and rousing defense of "Liberal Science," which I posted earlier this year.