Academic freedom, freedom of speech, and the far right



In a number of instances, I have been told that many on the Far Right are every bit as concerned about constraints on academic freedom as Progressives are. When I have pointed out that most of the attacks on academic freedom seem to have come from Far Right political figures and commentators who are responding to what they see as the deeply entrenched liberal bias in academia, I have been told that the Far Right is not homogenous—that there is a grassroots movement for whom academic freedom is a core value to be protected and for whom campus speech and civility codes are very problematic for the same reasons that I find the legislative undermining of academic freedom to be so problematic.

I am very willing to grant that at both ends of the political spectrum there are those who are too willing to sacrifice academic freedom and the broader freedom of expression to advance their own political agendas. That said, a recent article published on the Red States blog Human Events demonstrates why attacks on speech and civility codes are not necessarily defense of freedom of speech or of academic freedom.

In an article titled “Turning the Tables on Campus Anti-Free Speech Codes,” J. P. Moran, whose byline describes him as a ”Catholic conservative and a 20-year marketing executive,” begins by discussing the recent assertions made by several prominent comedians that they no longer wish to perform on college campuses because the audiences have essentially sacrificed their senses of humor to political correctness. Fair enough. There have been several posts on this blog discussing those statements. But, whereas the contributors to this blog have taken issue with both the speech and civility codes and the comedians’ response to them, Moran advances a much different argument:

“Students can have fun embarrassing the daylights out of these schools’ administrations—with the desired outcome of the anti-free speech codes being rescinded, one by one.

“Here are some ideas to try out:

“–You’re a Christian student. Claim to feel intimidated and demeaned by liberal students and professors for criticizing your religious points of view on family values and God. You demand that all criticism of your faith and politically conservative social beliefs ceases immediately, lest you feel demeaned and your self-esteem lowered.

“–You’re a woman taking a comparative religion course. Claim to feel threatened while discussing the religion of Islam. In many classes, the Koran is required reading material, and it describes Mohammed’s marriage to a 6 year old girl and sex with her when she was 9, along with countless other stories of Mohammed’s sanctioning of child rape, sex slaves and wife beating. You demand that the entire subject of Islam, and copies of the Koran, be completely banned from university as demeaning hate speech.

“–You’re a pro-life female student. Claim to feel threatened and your religious beliefs violently attacked any time professors or students openly support abortion. Tell them you are having nightmares of doctors aborting your unborn baby, and your security is severely threatened. All discussion and speech supporting ‘pro-choice’ and abortion must be immediately banned on campus.

“–You’re a college male. Claim to have been made to feel demeaned and abused sexually by women on campus who have checked you out working out at the campus gym. These women’s dashing glances are surely sexual in nature. You demand that no women be allowed in or near the campus gym, in order to preserve your rights and dignity and prevent this obvious sexual harassment.

“If you’re a student at one of these anti-free speech college campuses, try beating progressives at their own game by making them take some of their own bad medicine, and see how fast they change their intolerant speech codes. Get creative and have fun.”

So, Moran is arguing for the preservation of academic freedom and freedom of speech through the suppression of not just speech and civility codes but through the suppression of Progressive opinions. Freedom of speech is essentially being conflated with intimidating one’s political foes first into retreat and then into silence.

And that is often the problem when one adopts the opposition’s tactics: one simply replaces one wrong-headed idea with another wrong-headed idea. The means do define the end results.

That truism applies to Progressives as well as to those at the other end of the political spectrum. And that confusion between the right to free expression and an insistence on the “right” forms of expression seems to me to be, for the most part, the area of commonality, rather than any truly shared values.

Moran’s complete article is available at: