Drawing Speech Lines

This letter from the English faculty does a nice job of parsing how to talk about free speech while considering how to protect the vulnerable.

They write:

We wish to reaffirm that our role as scholars and educators centrally includes the fostering of a culture of inclusiveness and mutual respect that prizes our diversity rather than seeing it as a threat. Such a culture depends on a willingness to listen carefully to other viewpoints, and to engage critically with them, in ways that respect norms of reasoned argument and the use of evidence. Particularly in the context of emotionally and politically charged issues, it is crucial to respect the right to freely express and argue for one’s views, especially when they are controversial or run counter to popular opinion.

This is good and necessary. They continue:

But when disagreement takes such forms as bullying, racially charged attacks, and the glorification of violence against those with whom one differs, then speech is no longer primarily a matter of the expression of ideas, viewpoints, or opinions, and an invocation of the right to free speech is a distraction from the real issue. There is a crucial difference between speech that makes claims and articulates ideas, and speech that demeans, intimidates, or harms others.

We all know this. Even the free speech absolutists know this, they just feel the trade-offs of abusing the vulnerable is an acceptable price to pay for absolute free speech. Most people, whether they admit it or not, are free speech relativists, debating where to draw the lines.

This is a good place to draw such lines.

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