By Greg Piper at The College Fix
Certain phrases that we may gloss over as meaningless jargon could have a very specific – and alarming – connotation, depending on the context.
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert, picked up on something alarming from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, as expressed in this Huffington Post story about conservative activist David Horowitz’s fiery speech at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Here’s what CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said about Horowitz’s speech, which accused national Muslim student groups of having an agenda to “kill the Jews”:
“[Controversial speakers] create a hostile learning environment for Muslim and Arab-American students, and that’s what they’re designed to do,” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told HuffPost. “They’re designed to demonize Muslim and Arab students.”
Volokh, who talked to Hooper, relayed that the spokesman said something to the effect of “anti-Muslim speakers” rather than HuffPo‘s “controversial.”
You know what “hostile learning environment” means?
Rather, a “hostile learning environment” (also known as a “hostile educational environment”) is a legal term of art, referring to something that violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act or other bans on discrimination in education. Many campus speech and conduct codes, including UNC’s, ban speech or conduct that creates a “hostile environment.” The federal government has stated that speech that creates a hostile environment based on national origin is barred by Title VI. Indeed, CAIR has in the past called for the federal government to investigate allegations of a hostile learning environment.
So the statement is suggesting that, in CAIR’s view, “anti-Muslim speakers” may already violate campus speech codes, and that universities may be under a legal obligation (under Title VI) to exclude such speakers.
This is such unbelievable BS that CAIR must be pretty confident that ignorant journalists won’t know what the hell it’s really talking about. As Volokh notes, a public university that actually followed through on CAIR’s interpretation would be inviting a big fat First Amendment lawsuit. (Of course, you need punished students willing to take unaccountable, smarmy bullies to court.)
A private university, on the other hand, might be able to get away with it, though it would certainly get a warning letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education saying that it can’t promote “freedom of expression” or some other guarantee to students and then turn around and ban certain kinds of speech.
Remember Volokh’s admonition: “when one considers arguments in favor of speech codes that ban speech that creates a ‘hostile educational environment,’” such codes could easily be used to insulate certain actions, ideas or people from any criticism.