free speech


Boise State University was sued recently for requiring prolife students to use warning signs when they protest abortion on campus with graphic images of aborted babies.

You know the ones – they are not easy to look at. They are real photos of murdered children, and they look like just that: blood, dismembered parts, lifeless faces.

Why would we use such images? We do so because those horrific photos so many prolifers use, including myself, are effective.

Women going into clinics have stopped in their tracks upon seeing the images and changed their minds. Many have later told pro-life workers that the disturbing pictures portraying the truth about abortion were the sole thing that convinced them to turn around and have their babies.

I have heard the argument (from people on both sides) that the graphic pictures are counterproductive because they make people angry at us and harden them even more.

Certainly, they make many people furious. One time a young college student even came up to my group and started crying and yelling at us, claiming that she had been raped and had had an abortion.

Many have heard of the feminist studies professor at UC Santa Barbara who stormed off with a teenage prolifer’s sign last semester. I was among that group of prolife protesters on campus that day, and we dared to hold graphic signs showing what abortion is, causing the professor to throw herself into, literally, a rage.

It is not the photos that upset them, though (after all, it is not a baby, remember?).

The hard truth of abortion thrust in front of them is what sets people off. The photos do not harden people against the pro-life cause; they only give them a run for their money…and deeply unsettle them.

That said, I do think that whenever possible children and post-abortive women should be spared seeing the images.

I am part of an independent group that operates similarly to Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, and often we just reach out and talk to women, give them a pamphlet, and tell them about nearby pregnancy centers.

This is a gentler way to approach these women and dispenses with a lot of the stress that inevitably accompanies seeing the pictures. If it works, great. If not, maybe they need to see a bit more.

As far as trigger warnings, if all they accomplish is helping to steel people before they see the photos, the warnings are acceptable. However, they may do more harm than good if they truly ward people off. The ones I have seen have not been particularly effective at deterring people. Do people really have that kind of self-control over their curiosity?

It really comes down to the bottom line that you usually just cannot predict who will happen to see the photos. The bad consequences of NOT shaking people awake in this way are so much scarier than any bad effects that showing the reality of abortion will have on those who are not ready to see it.

That is why the lawsuit against Boise State is important: it is about free speech. It is about our right to tell the truth, hard as that may be.

The suit was filed by the conservative law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, which stated in announcing its litigation that “university policies that suppress free speech are completely at odds with what a university is: a marketplace of ideas.”

“Free speech should not be limited to a tiny area on campus, nor should students be told their speech needs a warning sign simply because university officials think their views are ‘controversial.’”

Meanwhile, the law firm points out that “Boise State University has allowed other groups to host events without warning signs, including Planned Parenthood, which distributed condoms on campus, and the Secular Student Alliance, which distributed ‘Does God Exist?’ fliers in open spaces on campus.”

If ruled in favor of Boise State, the suit sets a looming precedent that could lead to more and more restrictions on free speech, especially that which aims to speak an extremely hard truth, as prolifers do.

It’s a dangerous and slippery slope when we allow campus administrators to decide what’s “controversial ” and what’s not, or what is protected free speech and what deserves qualifications.

My peers and I are fighting for the freedom to speak the truth, whether people like it or not. Freedom to be lied to and remain ignorant is not freedom. We are fighting for the heart and soul of this nation.

Mairead McArdle is a student at Thomas Aquinas College.

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IMAGE:  Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust screenshot/Facebook


Some depressing results today from the Newseum Institute’s 2014 State of the First Amendment survey, which finds disturbing numbers of Americans think the First Amendment is too generous. That is, when they know what it protects at all.

The Poynter Institute ticks off the results:

Just 1 percent of U.S. adults know that the First Amendment guarantees the right to petition the government …

… about 38 percent of adults surveyed think the First Amendment goes too far in protecting freedom of expression. …

The survey also revealed that 14 percent of Americans don’t know that the First Amendment provides for freedom of the press, and 29 percent couldn’t name any of the rights it guarantees, down from 36 percent last year. [emphasis added]

That’s right – last year, even more people didn’t know what the First Amendment does. America is also at a record high for how many people know the First Amendment “guarantees the right to freedom of speech,” at 68 percent.

Too bad the other 32 percent appear to be college administrators.

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Raunchy gay sex columnist and sometimes political activist Dan Savage has been caught up in a perfect storm of liberal identity politics. While speaking at the University of Chicago last week, Savage used the word “tranny”–a slang term for transgender people–in the context of “reclaiming” words that might otherwise have a negative connotation.

In a perfectly ironic turn of events that followed, a self-identified transgendered student in the audience is now saying that he/she was deeply hurt by Savage’s use of the “reclaimed” slur.

The Illinois Review reports the details:

The incident occurred when, according to several sources, Savage and [the event hostess Ana Marie] Cox began discussing [Savage's] personal history as a gay man. According to a first-year student and member of the LGBTQ community who asked to be identified as Hex, Savage used the slur t—– as an example in an anecdote about reclaiming words. Cox then added, “I used to make jokes about t—-ies,” audience members recounted.

“That was one of the most hurtful parts,” Hex said, explaining the perceived insult was that Cox used the slur to refer to the group of people she joked about. “In that context, it was like being applied to all transgender people,” it said. (“It” is Hex’s chosen pronoun.)

The offended students have even started up a petition on, demanding that U of Chicago’s Institute of Politics forever ban the use of offensive language at its events.

You see, those poor sensitive students just can’t handle it.

They just can’t.

Personally, I love the irony of this situation. Dan Savage, a hero of the radical left, general in the fight to mainstream radical sexual identities in this country, is now being eaten alive by his own kind.

In a related story, RuPaul, probably the nation’s most famous transvestite pop star for the last twenty years, has been accused of transphobia because his television show uses the term “She-Mail” to describe messages from the host. Critics say they are offended because it’s a play on the term “shemale,” which, they say, is derogatory. RuPaul also has used the word “tranny” publicly.

According to, RuPaul said “those offended by the use of the word “tranny” “are fringe people who are looking for story lines to strengthen their identity as victims.”

The tyranny of liberal identity politics has reached a tipping point, and it has now become very dangerous for public figures to say anything controversial in public. And that’s bad news for all of us who care about freedom of speech and expression–even if it might be fun to watch liberals devouring themselves over such issues. In the long run, all of us are being negatively impacted by a climate of speech control, fueled by the manufactured outrage of various groups and individuals who will not tolerate an opposing view, and will not permit others to express themselves in a way they dislike.

If you are a musician, and you dare to wear an Indian head dress as part of an artistic photo shoot, you will be blasted for cultural “appropriation.” You will be forced to apologize or risk damaging your career.

If you have a TV show, but happen to hold a conservative biblical view about homosexuality, your TV show will be cancelled. Or suspended. You will be silenced. You will be labeled a bigot. Your beliefs will be categorized as “hate.” There is an army of liberal speech-code enforcers out there monitoring the airwaves, searching the YouTube archives, looking to shut down every voice they disapprove of.

You will be forced to do things that violate your religious beliefs, if you want to keep your business. In this Brave New World of liberal fascism, you can be forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding, whether you wish to do so or not. You can be forced to undergo sensitivity training to keep your job.

Any belief that is so threatened by dissenting voices that it must stamp them all out is a belief that fears close examination. The desperate attempts of the radical sexual progressives to silence all who disagree with them is a sure sign of their own insecurity–of their own moral self doubt. They fight the voices of others in an effort to silence the lingering voices of their own seared consciences.

We are at the dawn of a new age of illiberality in the West. It is not enough, any longer, to simply tolerate the beliefs and lifestyles of others. You must agree to actively participate and even celebrate the lifestyles of others. Or else they’re coming for blood.

Our culture has become a minefield of linguistic taboos. At all times, someone, somewhere is waiting to be offended. And these taboos are enforced by increasingly frightened media companies who fear boycotts and lawsuits. Liberal activists, emboldened by their success at silencing opposing viewpoints, are growing ever more tyrannical, ever more intolerant, and ever more powerful.

Tolerance is dead in this country, or almost dead. Freedom of conscience? It’s a relic of the past. We have allowed a small minority of oppressive victim hustlers to effectively neuter the First Amendment. As a result, freedom of speech is something we Americans, in truth, no longer effectively posses.

Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix and author of the book SEX & GOD AT YALE: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.

Follow Nathan on Twitter @NathanHarden

IMAGE: NoFreeSpeech/Flickr

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Students at several universities across the nation have requested policies that mandate professors use “trigger warnings” before presenting material students may deem upsetting, a new and growing trend that has prompted praise, ridicule, and concern over academic freedom.

“Trigger warnings” aim to alert students that the academic content they are about to be exposed to might upset them in some way, or in some cases may cause students to relive traumatic experiences, especially regarding topics such as rape and domestic violence.

No schools require trigger warnings yet, but at least six universities across the nation have fielded such requests from students, The Associated Press reports.

Student government leaders at the University of California – Santa Barbara were among the first to forge a path on the subject, debating a resolution during the spring semester that urged professors to put trigger warnings on their syllabuses.

“The current suggested list of trigger warnings includes rape, sexual assault, abuse, self-injurious behavior, suicide, graphic violence, pornography, kidnapping, and graphic depictions of gore,” the resolution stated. “…The Associated Students of UC Santa Barbara urge the instructor of any course that includes triggering content to list trigger warnings on the syllabus.”

Bailey Loverin, a UC Santa Barbara student and co-author of the resolution, first proposed the idea to her classmates, and it proved to be a popular idea among her peers.

“What I have heard from a lot of people who don’t fully understand the issue is, ‘Life is life. You are going to get your feelings hurt and you should just suck it up and meet it head-on,’” Loverin, 19, told The Associated Press. “But a girl just raped a month ago and sitting in a classroom for the first time again isn’t ready to face that head-on.”

In a New York Times op-ed, Loverin argued that “without a trigger warning, a survivor might black out, become hysterical or feel force to leave the room,” adding this halts the learning process. With a trigger warning, however, “they would be prepared to face uncomfortable material and could better contribute to the discussions or opt to avoid them.”

But others – including faculty, editorial writers, and online pundits – have reacted differently, calling trigger warnings antithetical to the idea of college and a threat to free speech.

“(S)hutting words out and censorship also comes with a cost,” wrote Laurie Essig, an associate professor of sociology and women’s and gender studies at Middlebury College, in a New York Times op-ed. “We must sometimes hear painful and difficult things in order to grow. We must listen to someone with whom we vehemently disagree in order to come to some common understanding. Avoiding speech is a slippery slope.”

Reason reports that “Oberlin College attracted media attention when its Office of Equity Concerns posted, and later removed, a trigger warning guide advising professors to avoid triggering topics such as racism, colonialism, and sexism when possible.”

The Oberlin guide had also suggested warnings such as: “We are reading this work in spite of the author’s racist frameworks because his work was foundational to establishing the field of anthropology, and because I think together we can challenge, deconstruct, and learn from his mistakes.”

NYU professor Jonathan Zimmerman took a humorous viewpoint on the issue, publishing in The Chronicle of Higher Education a re-write of his Introduction to United States History syllabus with trigger warnings.

Prof. Zimmerman, for example, warns Quakers and Catholics that “the Puritans sometimes cut off your ears and bored out your tongues, so skip this week if you don’t want to hear or talk about that.”

“Ditto for practicioners of Wicca, who will surely be alarmed by the trials of their sister witches at Salem,” he continued.

When the class covers Prohibition and the “Roaring Twenties,” Zimmerman puts a trigger alert for Italian-Americans and accounting majors, who may take issue with Al Capone’s massive crime ring in which he was arrested for tax evasion. For World War II, Prof. Zimmerman says there’s no need for Germans, Italians, or Japanese folks to show up to class: “We won, they lost. Any questions?”

For the Cold War, Prof. Zimmerman says it’s “not a good week to be a Communist, or even someone who seems like a communist. You know who you are.” A final zinger for the Clinton years – “Let’s imagine that your dad had an affair with a younger – OK, a much younger – work associate. If you don’t want to go there, you don’t want to come to this class either. It’s pretty gross.”

Another argument put forth by trigger warning opponents is that they are already done on a voluntary basis, and mandating them could stifle free speech.

Aishah Shahidah Simmons, a rape survivor and professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, told The Associated Press she already alerts her students on the first day of class and in her class syllabus that “we are getting ready to delve into some really difficult, painful information here,” such as sexual violence and police brutality. In addition, Simmons said she gives her students lists of resources for emotional support, and also arranges private viewings for students who are not comfortable to watch a film during class.

Boston Globe columnist Renee Loth argues that at the crux of the issue, “reasonable concern for students who may have suffered terrible traumas has morphed into a serious threat to intellectual freedom.”

“They are especially worrisome on college campuses,” she added, “where exposure to a free exchange of ideas is paramount.”

College Fix contributor Andrew Desiderio is a student at The George Washington University.

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At one in every six public colleges in the United States, students must limit their public expression of ideas to restrictive, tiny free speech zones, according to a group that advocates for students’ rights. Starting this summer, Virginia will scratch its schools off this list.

On April 4, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed a law authorizing outdoor areas of the state’s public college campuses as public forums for free speech. The bill, which was introduced by Del. Scott Lingamfelter (R), passed both houses of the Virginia General Assembly unanimously. Virginia’s new law goes into effect on July 1.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education was instrumental in advocating for the bill’s passage. After the bill was introduced, FIRE’s legislative and policy director, Joe Cohn, went to Virginia to explain the importance of college free speech rights to legislators.

Cohn told The College Fix in an interview that Virginia is the first state to pass such a law expanding free speech rights.

“We’re tremendously excited about Virginia’s free speech zone bill, and it’s a credit to the Virginia legislators and Governor McAuliffe that the bill passed unanimously and that everyone understood the need to promote students’ rights to speak their minds on college campuses,” Cohn said.

Cohn said that his “understanding, from conversations with” Lingamfelter, was that the delegate was motivated by an incident at Modesto Junior College in California. The incident involved a campus safety officer telling two students they could not distribute copies of the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day in front of the student center because they were not in a free speech area and had not asked for prior permission.

“We see these cases popping up frequently where students are prohibited from distributing literature in open areas of campus where they should be allowed to do so,” Cohn said.

FIRE’s efforts have borne fruit in Hawaii as well. Last month, it helped University of Hawaii at Hilo students Merritt Burch and Anthony Vizzone coordinate a lawsuit against the school for preventing them from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution near the student center. The university is now reviewing its policy on speech and assembly, and it announced implementation of an interim policy that suspends its restrictive measures as it attempts to resolve the lawsuit with the students.

Cohn said schools began instituting free speech zones in the 1980s to guarantee that students would always have a place to exercise their First Amendment rights. However, in the 1990s, colleges began using the rule to restrict these zones to smaller and more obscure areas on campuses.

Cohn emphasized that open areas on campuses can be subject to time, place, and manner restrictions, but these limitations must be content and viewpoint neutral. For example, a school can limit the decibel level of a group outside the library, but the school cannot manipulate this rule to prevent a group from speaking based on its subject matter.

FIRE illustrates the restrictive policies of schools across the country using its Spotlight Speech Codes Database, the source of the one-in-six figure for restrictive speech zones. This infographic rates schools by state according to traffic light categories.

A “red light” school clearly and substantially restricts free speech through at least one policy. A “yellow light” school has at least one policy with vague wording that limits free speech or could be easily used to limit free speech. A “green light” school indicates that FIRE is not aware of any restrictive policies on its campus.

According to Cohn, as of this month Virginia has the highest concentration of “green light” schools in the country, with only three.

University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors, a conservative, and Boston civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate, a progressive, founded FIRE in 1999. FIRE’s stated mission is to defend individual rights, includingfreedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience at colleges and universities. Its outreach efforts include a summer internship program and a summer conference at Bryn Mawr College to expose students to professionals who deal with free speech rights in their careers.

“They saw that there was a growing need for an organization to step up to this challenge and it was becoming more and more obvious to them how pervasive violations of the student rights really were,” Cohn said.

College Fix contributor Claire E. Healey is a student at Grove City College.

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Administrators at British Columbia’s Capilano University have seized a sculpture crafted by an art instructor on the grounds that it amounted to workplace “bullying” and “harassment” of university President Kris Bulcroft.

The artwork depicts Bulcroft and her poodle as caricature ventriloquist dolls wrapped in an American flag, which administrators deemed an “effigy” and forcibly confiscated May 7.

George Rammell, the Capilano instructor who created the sculpture, titled Blathering on in Krisendom, said his property was removed from the university’s studio art building without his knowledge or consent.

Upon discovering its disappearance, Rammell said campus security told him it had been taken under an order from the university’s administration. Two weeks later, Rammell still does not know where it is.

“I see this heist as a model of the way this university administration operates,” Rammell said in an email interview Wednesday with The College Fix. “They feel entitled to make decisions behind closed doors and seize protest banners and art that is critical of them.”

Jane Shackell, chair of Capilano’s board, said the decision to remove the sculpture, made under her direction, “was not taken lightly, but rather was the result of endeavoring to find the right balance among many competing values,” she said in a statement published by Inside Higher Ed.

“No one wants Capilano to be a place where art is arbitrarily removed or censored,” she said.GeorgeRammell

But, she added, “we must also be mindful of the university’s obligations to cultivate and protect a respectful workplace in which personal harassment and bullying are prohibited.”

Shackell said the sculpture amounted to “workplace harassment … intended to belittle and humiliate the president.”

Rammell scoffed at the notion.

“Inanimate objects can’t harass, art doesn’t harass; people harass,” he told The College Fix. “If they had issues with me as an artist they could have gone through a grievance process.”

“Of course I was being cheeky,” Rammell added about his work. “In my decades of teaching I’ve always promoted art that challenges, deconstructs and encourages debate.”

He said a university should encourage discourse and dialogue, insisting “it’s not a corporation where faculty can be fired for insubordination.”

Rammell also said Capilano’s president deserves scrutiny and satire because “she’s willing to break Canadian laws and, when found guilty by our Supreme Court, she wants to use our limited financial resources to appeal.”

Rammell is referring to British Columbia’s Supreme Court ruling in April that the Capilano administration had acted contrary to the province’s University Act in making cuts to programs without first consulting the Capilano Senate. The university is considering an appeal to the court’s ruling.

But President Bulcroft has come under fire for her decision last year to cut the programs, including the studio arts program and textile arts.

Sandra Seekins, an art history instructor at Capilano, expressed her disapproval with the confiscation of the sculpture in a letter to the university’s board.

“The action authorized by the Chair of the Board [Shackell] … provides further proof that the people who suspended the Studio Arts and Textile Arts programs have a minimal understanding of the role of art in our society and no understanding of what is at stake in an anti-censorship position,” Seekins wrote.

She said one of art’s roles is “to question and challenge the status quo,” writing that it does not avoid controversial topics.

The university administration has stated the sculpture would be returned to Rammell under the condition that it is not brought back to campus.

College Fix contributor Andrew Desiderio is a student at The George Washington University.

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IMAGE: Reprinted with permission from George Rammell

H/T: Inside Higher Ed

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