For the last few months, Stephen Bainbridge has been talking about “the Purge”, what he perceives as an increased effort to rid campuses of ideas and people that the Left does not approve of. It has manifested in universities cutting funding for conservative groups and preventing them from hosting speakers that some students don’t approve of (lest anyone be “offended”). It has manifested in Rutgers withdrawing an invitation to Condi Rice to speak at their commencement (a precedent followed by other schools). It has manifested in Brandeis withdrawing a speaking invitation to Ayan Hirsi Ali. It has manifested in Charles Murray’s speech at Azusa Pacific being postponed indefinitely.
In isolation, these things wouldn’t be a concern. No one has a right to speak, after all (although I doubt the people who objected to Rutgers hosting “war criminal” Condi Rice would object to hosting a member of the Administration that has droned American citizens to death without trial). But we’re now seeing the second stage: legal harassment of people who may harbor politically incorrect views:
Douglas Laycock, School of Law faculty member and husband of UVA President Teresa Sullivan, is one of the country’s leading experts on religious liberty, and is well-known for a legal stance that often puts him on opposite sides of polarizing political issues: He supports individual religious rights, but also a total separation of church and state, and he’s argued several Supreme Court cases from that position, defending conservative Lutherans and Santería sect members alike.
Some of his recent writings have been heavily cited by members of the religious right, and now he’s facing the ire of activists on the other end of the political spectrum.
“His work, whether he understands it or realizes it or not, is being used by folks who want to institute discrimination into law,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of Berkeley, California-based LGBT activist group GetEQUAL.
Through the activist group Virginia Student Power Network, GetEQUAL found two UVA students willing to take up the cause of calling out Laycock: rising fourth-year Greg Lewis and now-alum Stephanie Montenegro. Last week, the pair sent an open letter to Laycock asking him to consider the “real-world consequences that [his] work is having.” They also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking e-mails between Laycock and various right-wing and religious liberty groups.
They say they just want to “start a dialogue”. Many of you will recognize that language. “Starting a dialogue” frequently translates out of Leftese into English as “you will shut up while I berate you.” Bainbridge calls them out:
Bullshit. You don’t start a dialogue with FOIA requests. This is a blatant effort at deterring public participation by anyone who does not hew 100% to the most radical version of the gay rights movement.
FOIA requests should sound familiar. That was the tactic that, when used in an attempt to fish around in Michael Mann’s records, was denounced by the Left as an Orwellian attack on academic freedom. And it was. But now that it is being applied to someone who isn’t even conservative, but is insufficiently liberal, it’s OK again. And that’s not the first time they’ve flipped on this. When Greenpeace used FOIA to go after climate skeptical Patrick Michaels, the academic-freedom-loving Left cheered them on. They then used the information Greenpeace dredged up to attack Michaels. (To be fair, as Walter Olson notes, some conservative groups are also using FOIA to attack profs they don’t like).
Look, you either believe in academic freedom or you don’t. You either believe in the free exchange of ideas or you don’t. And a significant and vocal part of the Left has made it clear, sometimes very explicitly, that they only believe in academic freedom for ideas they approve of.
I don’t think you win arguments by silencing dissenters. Argue … shout … scream … protest … sure. Make your case; make it forcefully; mock your opponents. That’s fighting bad speech with more free speech. But the tenor of these attacks is edging closer and closer to censorship, closer and closer to ridding the academy of ideas that are considered dangerous or subversive (at least by a small group of like-minded people).
The justification is usually given as protecting people from being offended. But no one has a right to not be offended. Hell, it’s good to be offended sometimes. It can motivate you. The most linked blog post I ever wrote was a debunking of Mother Jones’ claim that mass shooting were on the rise. I wrote it because I was infuriated by their abuse of statistics.
Moreover college is where you should be exposed to a broad array of ideas, some of which may offend you. Being taken out of your comfort zone is how you learn. Sometimes, you learn that you were wrong (of course, nothing offends people more than being wrong). Sometimes you learn that you were right. I always despised communism. It wasn’t until I was exposed to communist writings in college that if found it offended me with its awful understanding of economics and explicit embrace of totalitarianism.
Another justification given is that we don’t want to contaminate impressionable young minds with bad ideas. More garbage. The best time to encounter bad ideas is when you’re in college, when your entire life revolves around ingesting and either accepting or rejecting ideas.
You don’t immunize people from “bad” ideas by hiding them away. You argue, you debate, you explain why those ideas are wrong, you put forward better ideas. If you think Douglas Laycock is wrong on religious freedom, file your own amicus briefs. But don’t abuse the FOIA laws to try to harass and intimidate him. That’s not “starting a dialogue”. That just thuggery.