Speech resolution draws ire

November 15, 2004

The UA Faculty Senate is a free speech violator and created a “speech code” with its resolution that condemns hate speech, officials at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education say.


In response to an incident at an event sponsored by University Programs where a comedian directed homosexual jokes toward a student, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution condemning “hate speech” and advised that UA administration institute policies that UA sponsored speakers should not be able to make racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, homophobic or ethnic statements.


Officials at FIRE are concerned that the resolution will limit freedom of expression on campus. FIRE sent a letter to the Senate claiming that the resolution seeks to eliminate speech that might be deemed offensive from any approved UA program or activity. FIRE co-founder Harvey Silverglate said universities across the country are trying to “eliminate liberty” while stifling speech.


Silverglate said resolutions mentioning speech are disguised “speech codes” used to limit freedom of expression on campuses.


“This is a very broad national disease that has crept into the entire higher education community throughout the country,” he said at a conference at the UA School of Law on Oct. 29. “The state has an obligation to treat different viewpoints the same. The state cannot weigh in to favor one viewpoint over another viewpoint.


“The state can control conduct, but it cannot control viewpoint.”


Silverglate said his group battles forces within universities that try to destroy liberty, legal equality and due process. He said these groups have “cloaked” themselves for 25 years in the “garment” of morality.


“[These people] think they are fighting the good fight,” he said. “They claim that they are fighting for the underdog, equal treatment, that they are fighting racism, sexism and homophobia.


“When in fact they are not fighting those evils at all. They are fighting for the destruction of a free society.”


He said people can’t be placed into the trap of thinking “free speech codes” are helping disenfranchised groups. He said these groups would only become full citizens when they live in total liberty of freedom of expression.


UA Faculty Senate President John Mason said the resolution is not about banning free speech. Rather, he said the Senate has problems with the University subsidizing speech that is racist, sexist or homophobic.


“I don’t care if people go out to the Quad or any other area and say whatever they want,” he said. “I just don’t want the University to pay for [hate speech].”


The letter also mentioned the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case of Board of Education v. Barnette, a case in which Justice Robert Jackson, writing for the Court, said, “Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order. If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Schools: University of Alabama Cases: University of Alabama: Faculty Senate ‘Hate Speech’ Resolution