When Butler University became, according to The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the first institution of higher education to file a lawsuit for online speech, it didn’t have to be that way. In fact, just up I-65, at Purdue, a professor wrote an unpopular blog that angered a large part of the campus. Instead of acting rashly, the administration at Purdue recognized that the words of this professor, though unpopular, constituted free speech. Like the ACLU has said, “The best way to counter obnoxious speech is with more speech. Persuasion, not coercion, is the solution.” Indeed, free speech may not always be popular speech, but it’s the free part, not the popularity part, that we need to defend.
Consider the difference between the press that Butler has been getting for its free speech stance and the press that Purdue has been receiving for its. I don’t think I need to point out again what people have been saying about Butler: Just look at my last few posts and any of the links on the right. As for Purdue, the Indianapolis Star wrote an editorial this past Friday titled, “A Messy Test of Free Speech” where the editorial board praises Purdue’s actions.
The Star writes:
“One of the beauties of the First Amendment is that it protects the right of any citizen to freely express an opinion, even an unpopular opinion. It also protects the right of critics to offer counter arguments. And so, in an often messy but crucial process, public debate about wide-ranging issues -- including politics, religion and sex -- advances.”
“Chapman's opinions might not fit within the often narrow range of viewpoints deemed acceptable on many college campuses, but so far all that he has done is present an argument. It may be an offensive argument to many, but the professor didn't come close to advocating violence against anyone or to resorting to slurs to demean his opponents in the Oct. 27 blog post that stirred the controversy.”
The editorial concludes:
“The university has taken the right stand on the matter, pointing to the First Amendment and its powerful protections. They're protections all Americans should embrace, even when the arguments get messy.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if these kinds of things could be written about the Butler administration?