On Freedom of Speech and *Safe Spaces*Somervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas

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On Freedom of Speech and *Safe Spaces*

18 November 2015 at 9:19:16 AM

DMN has an editorial this morning about *safe spaces*. The issue essentially is, does one group of people have the right to suppress speech for others because the first group objects to the beliefs or are caused emotional distress. The editorial is particularly speaking of college campuses.

College students standing together in opposition to racism, sexism or other societal ills is often positive. Their combined voices have pushed the academy — and, by extension, society — forward. No American versed in our constitutional protections would deny them their right to assembly or expression.

The problem is when the pendulum swings wildly off kilter, and these same students insist not only that we hear their voices — but that their voices are the only ones worth hearing....

Dissent is more than an American tradition. It’s a foundational tenet. Thinking, writing, speech — whether you agree does not affect its value. That is a lesson worth carrying into the real world.

Reading Popehat the other day where he was talking about safe spaces and making the distinction of safe spaces as *private club* vs safe spaces wielded as a sword.

In short, I support people creating "safe spaces" as a shield by exercising their freedom of association to organize themselves into mutually supporting communities, run according to their own norms. But not everyone imagines "safe spaces" like that. Some use the concept of "safe spaces" as a sword, wielded to annex public spaces and demand that people within those spaces conform to their private norms. That's not freedom of association. That's rank thuggery, a sort of ideological manifest destiny.It's the difference between saying "I shouldn't be forced to go to a talk by this controversial figure" and "this controversial figure should not be allowed to speak at my school."

The first is the location of that space. It's not a self-selected community or an exercise of freedom of association, because it lacks the element of voluntary entry. It's the safe space of an occupier: students demand that everyone in the dorm, or college, or university conform to their private-club rules. Your right to swing your fist may end at my nose, but their asserted right to safety surrounds you.

The second remarkable thing is the definition of safety. For the moment, let's accept for the sake of argument that some speech can make people genuinely unsafe. Imagine, perhaps, speech advocating for the physical abuse of minorities or urging vulnerable people to commit suicide. But the Yale incident demonstrates that this core concept, once accepted, can be expanded to cover anything. The argument seems to be that because we can imagine truly threatening speech, we must therefore accept uncritically other people's subjective beliefs about what speech is threatening. The speech at issue here was an email acknowledging that ethic Halloween costumes could be hurtful but discussing whether it should be the role of a university to tell students whether to wear them. This is safety as Ouroboros — it is unsafe to question what is unsafe, unsafe to discuss the concept of safety.

I agree with the analogy of *safe spaces*, rightly used, as a private club. I've similarly compared blog writing and commenting on this blog, Somervell County Salon, to a *home*.  From Wizbang

The right to free speech is not, however, linked to participation in a given website. In addition to the fact that blogs are not created or supported by government institutions and therefore cannot be morally connected to Constitutional rights, and the fact that blogs are private property and therefore the rules under which they operate are part of any blog's identity, there remains the fact that anyone who not accepted at a given blog is welcome to join another, or simply write what they wish in their own blog. It is, quite literally, impossible to prevent someone from speaking their mind and making their opinion known. It is merely possible to control comments at one site. The question of rights is, at best, merely one more attempt by trolls to divert discussion from the site's original focus.

Therefore, just like a private club or a home, there can be rules set that make it a *safe space* to express ideas, but once the private club wants to set and enforce rules for everyone everywhere, the whole idea of freedom of speech is mocked. I recall when the KKK came to Stephenville back in 2007.  Although I didn't agree with segregating counter protesters to another area, overall, the Ku Klux Klan was free to come march, even though their ideas are reviled by many. Westboro Baptist Church's actions are odious to me, but the Supreme Court of the United States protected their right to hold protests outside funerals

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that Westboro Baptist Church's picketing at fallen soldiers' funerals "is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible." But he said the reaction may not be "punishing the speaker."

"As a nation we have chosen a different course - to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate," Roberts said.

Roberts said that a ruling in favor of the church was based on on several factors. One is that the speech was on matters of public controversy.

"While these messages may fall short of refined social or political commentary, the issues they highlight - the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of our nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy - are matters of public import," he said.

Popehat goes on to say that it's not merely liberals that are abusing *safe spaces* but also conservatives with such constructs as the "War on Christmas" which asserts "we have a right to be congratulated for our religious beliefs by corporate America even out in public spaces". 

A second example using Mizzou.

We routinely protect the freedoms of people who scorn freedom: Nazis marching at Skokie, Westboro Baptist Church members protesting at funerals, and other assorted nitwits who dream of an America where their whims are law. That's the deal. We're not going to change because some academics and students are thuggish louts. We're not them. The sentiment "only people we agree with deserve rights" is theirs, not ours.



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