Shibley: “Civil Discourse” Doesn’t Trump First Amendment

September 12, 2012

FIRE’s Robert Shibley has a new column in The Daily Caller today in which he discusses the knee-jerk tendency for college administrators to mandate "civil discourse" and forget that they have an obligation to uphold the First Amendment. Robert writes:

What’s wrong with ordering students to be polite? As it turns out, plenty. While politeness is a virtue, most everyone recognizes that sometimes it’s not reasonable to expect it. For instance, what if your roommate turns out to be a racist? Must you remain polite and measure your tone as he drops casual references about how black people are inferior? What if someone down the hall is wearing a Che Guevara shirt and you’re a Cuban student whose grandfather was executed by Guevara for "counter-revolutionary activity"? Or what if you’re angry about the murder of a U.S. ambassador supposedly due to anger about film produced by some unrelated Americans? According to NC State’s policy, there was no choice: you must remain "civil" in all these circumstances.

Robert’s right on here. Though civil discourse might be something to encourage, it does not trump students’ First Amendment rights afforded to them by the Constitution. Should civility be enforced? As Robert says, on a public university, the answer has to be "no."

See Robert’s full column on the Daily Caller website.