Battling the lockstep left on campus
By Jeff Emanuel
April 27, 2006
The American university as a "marketplace of ideas" is an old and appealing concept. However, case after case of liberal faculty and students stifling free speech and advocating leftist indoctrination on campus, from Northern Kentucky professor Sally Jacobsen smashing a pro-life display to Warren County Community College instructor John Daly threatening a conservative freshman student that he would "expose [her] right-wing, anti-people politics until groups like [hers] won't dare show their face on a college campus," and asserting that "real freedom [in Iraq] will come when soldiers in Iraq turn their guns on their superiors," has all but destroyed the image (as utopian as it may have been) of college as a place where young people are exposed to truly diverse ideas and viewpoints.
All is not lost, though, and dramatic improvement may be on the horizon. Under the mentorship of such individual and organizational free-speech and students-rights advocates as David Horowitz, Sean Hannity, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) - along with countless others - students are now being handed more efficient tools for fighting back, and are being granted a greater venue for the publicization of their efforts.
A remarkable example of this is currently taking place at the Georgia Institute of Technology. With the help of the ADF, two students, senior Ruth Malhotra and junior Orit Sklar, recently filed a Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit against the university for its "blatantly unconstitutional" targeted speech codes, its discrimination against political and particular religious groups through student activity fee allocation, and its evaluation and endorsement of certain religious views through the school-sponsored "Safe Space" program.
Targeted speech codes abound in the regulations which govern undergraduates at Georgia Tech, the Student Code of Conduct and the Community Guide (called "Technically Speaking"). These manuals "contain comprehensive student conduct guidelines that regulate the bounds of permissible speech and expression on campus," regulating everything from "free-expression zones" (officially limited by the campus events office to one small amphitheater) to unacceptable types of speech (anything which could be considered an "act of intolerance" toward anybody's "race, religious belief, color, sexual/affectional orientation, national origin, disability, age, or gender").
This regulation of speech is ostensibly to reassure students that they need not fear slurs and attacks as a result of expressing their views in this "marketplace of ideas." In practice, however, the administrators who are responsible for enforcing this policy, and who are the ultimate arbiters of what constitutes free speech and what constitutes a speech code violation (or, in essence, what violates students' phantom, "right" to never feel offended or uncomfortable), have largely decided that the only existing "intolerance" and "hate speech" at their institution is mainstream campus conservatism. Students speaking out in defense of traditional marriage, or holding an affirmative-action bake sale, are engaging in "expressions" which are severely punished. The bake sale, for example, which was sponsored by the College Republicans (for whom plaintiff Ruth Malhotra is Chairman), was broken up by campus police, and Malhotra was summoned to the office of the Dean of Student Involvement, Danielle McDonald, who told her that "College Republicans has become a joke on campus," and warned her "not to engage in such expression again." At the same time, though, the university blesses "politically-charged, far-out-of-the-mainstream Leftist speech," such as the Vagina Monologues (which was sponsored in part by the college's Women's Resource Center), as part of the "intellectual diversity" supposedly valued by the university.
The second point in the suit is Georgia Tech's discrimination against religious and political groups by refusing to fund them with mandatory Student Activity Fees. In advance of every academic year, along with tuition, every student has to pay mandatory fees which, according to the university's Fact Sheet on Mandatory Student Activity Fees, are "used to fund various organizations benefiting students, such as...student-run organizations."
In print, these fees do not fund either "partisan political" or "religious" activities. In practice, however, a great deal of this money is funneled to liberal organizations who use it to engage in regarding cultural, political, ideological, and religious activities. The College Republicans, for example, are a (conservative) "partisan political" group, so they receive no funding. The gay Pride Alliance, however, is officially a "cultural group," not a "religious" or "political" one; thus, they were eligible to receive substantial funding from the university to bring a homosexual priest to speak on campus, and to fight the traditional marriage amendment. This obvious disparity, due to the arbitrary classification of some religious and political groups as "cultural," and therefore worthy of student fee allocation, clearly demonstrates discrimination on the part of the university administration against certain political and religious groups, and favoritism toward others - which are all mandatorily funded by students.
The third, and most contentious, part of the suit is in protest to Georgia Tech's official evaluation and endorsement of certain religious views through its "Safe Space" program. Safe Space provides LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered) students multiple campus "sanctuaries from discrimination." The program's purported mission is "to dispel negative stereotypes and present factually accurate information about LGBT people, and...to publicize other support resources or structures that are available on or off campus," as well as to "cause students to learn an automatic response to anti-LGBT bias."
In reality, though, Safe Space goes far beyond that. An official university organization funded by tax dollars and student fees - and supervised by the Dean of Students - the program seeks in large part to advance a specific religious view of homosexual behavior. The Safe Space Training Manual states, "Many religious traditions have taught, and some continue to teach, that homosexuality is immoral. These condemnations are based primarily on a few isolated passages from the Bible. Historically, Biblical passages taken out of context have been used to justify such things as slavery, the inferior status of women, and the persecution of religious minorities. In recent years, many theologians and clergy have begun to look at sexual relationships in terms of the love, mutual support, commitment, and the responsibility of the partners rather than the sex of the individuals involved. Currently, there are many gay and lesbian religious groups and religious congregations that are open, accepting, and supportive of the gay community" (emphasis added).
The manual then instructs individuals on the beliefs of particular religions with respect to homosexual behavior, stating clear disapproval for traditional religious views of homosexual behavior (labeling those views "anti-gay") and approval of religious views which are morally accepting of homosexuality. Among those getting the thumbs-up from Georgia Tech (and, by way of state funding, the unconstitutional thumbs-up from the government) are the Episcopal church (which is "more receptive to gay worshipers than many other Christian denominations"), Conservative Jews (who "support equal rights for homosexual people"), and Buddhism ("some [Buddhist countries] are relatively free of homophobia").
Those who did not get the de facto governmental stamp of approval in this nation of lately-dubious First Amendment enforcement include the Mormon church (which has "the most anti-gay policies of any religion widely practiced in the United States"), Southern Baptists (who "condemn homosexuality as a manifestation of a depraved nature and a perversion of divine standards"), and the Presbyterian church (which believes "homosexuality is not God's wish for humanity").
This part of the case has given liberal media and campus activists cause to portray the suit as a "fight against homosexual rights." Ruth Malhotra has been the victim of death threats from her fellow students, of slander from across the liberal fringe of the blogosphere, and of other inhumane treatment (such as pictures of her on the internet which have been photoshopped to show a Nazi swastika tattoo on her forehead) as a result of her willingness to speak out for everybody's basic rights. Unfortunately, those who are so viciously protesting this suit in their quest for special treatment are overlooking the fact that the repeal of subjective speech codes and government establishment of religion will actually benefit all - including them - by protecting every organization from being subject to arbitrary punishment for their point of view, should the face of the university administration one day change to reflect views which are in opposition to theirs. As Malhotra stated, "All students and student groups, including of course gay student groups, should enjoy the full range of First Amendment freedoms." Should this suit prevail, no rights - including LGBT rights - will be stripped away; rather, every student will once again be granted equal enforcement of their constitutional rights to free speech and from government establishment of religion.
Interestingly enough, the term "marketplace of ideas" was first brought into common use by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in his dissent to the 1919 Supreme Court case Abrams v. U.S. - in which he wrote of the dangers of restricting free speech, even when it may be directed against another person or organization (in that case, the federal government). University campuses have long been a bastion of some of the most extreme liberalism in this country, and have been fighting harder and harder recently to severely limit any and all speech not directly in line with their particular worldview. However, with more brave students like Malhotra and Sklar showing a greater willingness to stand up for their rights under the Constitution, and to protest such grievances as selectively-enforced speech codes, discrimination against non-politically correct views, and liberal indoctrination in the classroom, the bounds of liberalism college campuses may begin to be removed sooner, and more efficiently, than ever expected - and America's universities may once again become the prized "marketplaces of ideas" they once were.
Jeff Emanuel, a Special Operations military veteran, is a columnist and a director of conservative web log RedState.com.
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