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Opening Arguments

Free speech? What's that?

Trying times for the First Amendment. Students at the University of Kentucky will be able to choose between very little free speech and even less free speech:

The survey was approved by a faculty advisor at UK and emailed to the student body at large. It asked students to answer a set of questions; the 18th pertained to the university's speech code. "What is your preferred University policy on free speech on campus?" it asked. Here were the possible answers:

    • A single designated free speech zone in a specific location on campus
    • Multiple designated free speech zones in various locations across campus
    • No preference

Despite being part of a survey, the question should come with a single correct answer: Free speech is guaranteed on all campus property under the First Amendment and should be encouraged everywhere by an institution of higher learning, you unbelievable tyrants. Needless to say, this wasn't listed as one of the three possible responses.

And a journalism school dean, of all people, is agreeing with the yahoos who insist that "free speech" doesn't mean we have to toleratte "hate speech."

In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled speech that presents a “clear and present danger” is not protected by the First Amendment. Crying “fire” in a quiet, uninhabited place is one thing, the court said. But “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

Twenty-two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that forms of expression that “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are fighting words that are not protected by the First Amendment.

If Charlie Hebdo’s irreverent portrayal of Mohammed before the Jan. 7 attack wasn’t thought to constitute fighting words, or a clear and present danger, there should be no doubt now that the newspaper’s continued mocking of the Islamic prophet incites violence. And it pushes Charlie Hebdo’s free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable.

As one critic points out, the dean is wrong about almost everything. The "clear and present danger" standard hasn't been used in decades. And the "fighting words" exception to free speech is pretty much limited to direct personal insults by peole who are face to face.

If speech can be criminalized because it angers a man to the point where he wants to attack you, why should we limit it to speech said in his presence? “Fighting words” is a potential trojan horse for smuggling all sorts of exceptions for “hate” into the First Amendment. I’m surprised more lefties aren’t as forthright as this guy is in making the case for it.

Someone should poll the media on whether they agree with Wickham’s “heckler’s veto” assumption that it’s Charlie Hebdo’s staff, rather than, say, the jihadis like Al Qaeda who put a bounty on them and ended up murdering them, that’s guilty of “incitement.” I’d be curious to see the numbers.

If one of our own doesn't get the First Amendment, I suppose it's unrealistic to expect a bunch of college students to get it.