“Anger and controversy,” Robert wrote yesterday, “have been swirling at North Carolina State University about messages painted in N.C. State’s ‘Free Expression Tunnel’ on November 5 in the wake of Barack Obama’s presidential election victory.” The messages were clearly racist and have disturbed people both on and off campus.
Why has N.C. State censored these messages but in fact has celebrated the display of other violent messages against the leader of another country?
Someone once painted a poem in the Tunnel which many people on campus probably would interpret as “hate speech” against Muslims. The poet called an Islamic nation’s people “pigs” and “swine dogs” and explicitly promoted violence, writing about “the chance to kick your ass.” The poet also appeared to call for the end of Islam or at least of the nation’s leader: “your holy man’s time is drawing near.”
Here are those words in context:
I WILL STILL ENJOY THE SHOW / AS WE NUKE YOU TILL YOU GLOW … / … / IRAN YOU JUST LISTEN HERE / YOUR HOLY MAN’S TIME IS DRAWING NEAR / IT[‘]S HIS OWN MURDERING PIGS HE HAS TO FEAR / … / OUR OWN ARMY DANCES WITH DELIGHT / AT THE CHANCE TO KICK YOUR ASS LEFT AND RIGHT / YOU SWINE DOGS HAD US BY A SHORT HAIR / …
Has the university in any way criticized this speech? I haven’t seen any criticism. Actually, the university has advertised this language to incoming students in a picture here as an example of the Free Expression Tunnel in all its glory.
You see, incoming students at the university are promised that the Free Expression Tunnel is really free, a place on campus that “gives students a venue for expressing their thoughts and feelings about anything.” “Anything” includes hateful speech that rejoices in potential violence against Iran and its government officials. (By the way, that poem was painted in 1979, targeting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.) “Anything” also includes hateful, racist, violence-oriented speech against President-elect Obama, as Robert has amply demonstrated in response to calls to punish four students unconstitutionally for having expressed their thoughts and feelings in the Free Expression Tunnel. While it may be less controversial, speech is not less “hateful” simply because it is directed at foreigners rather than at Americans.
I wrote about North Carolina State University’s habit of unconstitutional censorship last year, when I learned that the university was targeting specific instances of “hate speech” to be painted over. Instead of having a viewpoint-neutral policy of painting over the whole tunnel on a regular schedule, the university was choosing when to paint over the tunnel on the basis of the content of the speech in the tunnel.
A commitment to free expression means nothing if it cannot survive the test of extremely unpleasant speech. “Hate speech,” however hateful, is almost always protected by the First Amendment. Very little such speech ever rises to the level of incitement—not even the recent speech in the tunnel which referred to killing the President-elect.
I said it last year and will say it again: for N.C. State to advertise its Free Expression Tunnel to potential students as a place for unmonitored expression—but in reality to have a policy in which speech there is selectively censored—is fraud and a mockery of freedom.