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University of Minnesota Student Leads Charge for Chicago Principles

Momentum is building nationwide behind a push for adoption of the University of Chicago’s statement in support of freedom of expression on campus, endorsed by FIRE this past January. On Wednesday, USA TODAY’s editorial board penned a stirring call for the statement’s widespread adoption, echoing a New York Daily News editorial from late August. Now students are joining the chorus as well.

Last week, University of Minnesota student Jasper Johnson took to the pages of the Minnesota Daily to argue for the adoption of the Chicago principles. Making the case that protecting even offensive speech would ultimately benefit his fellow Gophers and himself, Jasper wrote:

While restrictions on campus freedom of speech may at first appear to be based on honorable intentions — such as fostering an inclusive environment or preventing community animosity — it’s apparent that the restrictions have some far more sinister implications.  

When I engage in discussions about freedom of speech, I rarely find someone who claims they oppose it. Instead, seemingly everyone supports whatever they consider to be the “true” freedom of speech.

The subjectivity of hateful or offensive speech is what leads me to take a controversial stance: We need to protect all speech, even hate speech.  

Unless we relegate ourselves to pointless, relativist discussions, offense is inevitable. If a person stands for anything — even something as basic as human rights — I can guarantee that they will upset someone else.  

If you think that rape victims shouldn’t be honor-killed, someone will be mad at you. If you oppose genocide, you will make an enemy. The strangest and most ironic part of all this is that when we surrender our right to discuss controversial subjects, we can no longer criticize overt forms of hatred for fear of offense. Thus, we lose our most powerful tool to combat injustice: dialogue.

Noting that Purdue University and Princeton University have already adopted the core of the University of Chicago statement as operative policy, Jasper calls for the University of Minnesota to be next on the list.

We applaud Jasper’s initiative and fully support the effort. Check out his op-ed in full.

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