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Brody, Mill, and the “Truth”

To add to Tara’s skillful dissection of Johns Hopkins President William R. Brody’s “A Civil Tongue,” it’s important to remember that neither the inclination to censor “crude and tasteless speech” nor the concern with this reason for censorship is new. As FIRE states in its Guide to Free Speech on Campus:

[John Stuart] Mill addressed one of the major rationales for imposing constraints on free speech on campuses today, namely that speech should be “temperate” and “fair.” Mill observed that while people may claim they are not trying to ban others’ opinions but merely trying to banish “intemperate discussion…invective, sarcasm, personality, and the like,” they never seek to punish this kind of speech unless it is used against “the prevailing opinion.” Therefore, no one notices or objects when the advocates of the dominant opinion are rude or uncivil or cruel in their denunciations of their detractors. Why shouldn’t their opponents be equally free to show their disdain for the dominant opinion in the same way? Further, Mill warned, it always will be the ruling orthodoxy that gets to decide what is civil and what is not, and it will decide that to its own advantage.

As Brody says in his article, JHU “chooses as its motto ‘The truth shall make you free.’” He should abandon censorship and allow all opinions to challenge those that he is so confident are “truths.”

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