Civil liberties group: Consider the ‘terrible history of legislative prohibitions on dissent’
Last week Georgetown University’s student government approved a resolution condemning a conservative student for expressing conservative views. Senators also urged Georgetown students to file bias complaints against the ignominious student, College Republicans member Billy Torgerson.
They apparently aren’t willing to defend their official ostracism of Torgerson (above), however.
The resolution disappeared from public view after The College Fix reported on it. Now anyone who wants to view it must request access.
The Georgetown University Student Association had called Torgerson’s views “racist, ignorant, discriminatory, demeaning, and hateful,” based on a July 4 column he wrote that called the United States “the first country in the world that is made of free, self-governing individuals.”
Torgerson claimed that the Black Lives Matter movement is “entirely based in unfalsifiable ideological possession” and that people who support it “are being [emotionally] manipulated” to believe that the United States is “systemically racist.” He also called the Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling in favor of gay and transgender employees “an overreach of constitutional authority … that will have unintended consequences.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education told The College Fix the student government was inverting the private university’s Speech and Expression Policy, which instructs students to “openly and vigorously” contest arguments they oppose but not suppress speech.
Instead, senators are demanding the university itself “judge the value of ideas,” which the policy expressly says the university will not do.
“By encouraging students to report speech they find offensive to university administrators for investigation [see section below], Georgetown’s student government betrays both core liberal principles of free expression and university policy,” says the FIRE statement:
Criticizing speech you don’t like is fair game; reporting it to the authorities for investigation and potential discipline isn’t. If voicing a dissenting opinion or minority viewpoint becomes grounds for official sanction at Georgetown, the university might as well call it quits.
The administration must “make clear it will not investigate or discipline plainly protected political speech.” FIRE asked the student government to rescind the resolution “in recognition of the terrible history of legislative prohibitions on dissent.”
Law professor Jonathan Turley of nearby George Washington University also condemned the resolution but also the silence of the Georgetown administration in response.
He wrote in a blog post that senators should have published “their own views on this case or the other issues raised in the column,” yet they “sought to punish Torgerson for expressing dissenting opinions on legal and social issues”:
As Torgerson is isolated and attacked by the student body, Georgetown remained conspicuously silent. Not a word about how the university must remain a place for diverse opinions and viewpoints. …
The message from this incident is clear for conservative, libertarian, or just contrarian students: if you voice dissenting views, you will be formally denounced as a racist and your views treated as a “bias incident.” These students know that such action could have a harmful impact on future applications or prospects for students like Torgerson. The intended chilling effect is glacial on any others who want to engage in a good-faith debate over the issues that will be defining our nation for generations.
IMAGE: William Mitchell Torgerson/Twitter