• 55°

John Hood: Don’t hinder free speech

Writer

John Hood

RALEIGH — The primary benefit of the University of North Carolina system’s new free-speech policy will be to protect the freedom of professors, students and others to listen to whatever speakers they wish to hear without having their rights trampled by violent or abusive protesters.

That’s more than enough to justify UNC’s policy, which was required by a free-speech law the General Assembly enacted earlier this year. But it turns out that there has been a side benefit: outing the illiberal views of two organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Association of University Professors, that tried to convince the UNC Board of Governors not to adopt its free-speech protections.

The American Right should try to reclaim “liberal” from the American Left, which misappropriated it nearly a century ago to describe what is really progressivism — a philosophy that elevates political power over constitutional constraints, government institutions over private ones, and the rule of experts over individuals’ freedome to make their own decisions.

Now that left-wingers seem to prefer the term “progressive,” anyway, there may be a chance to recover the classical meaning of liberalism.

John Locke, the 17th-century philosopher viewed as the founder of political liberalism, would today be called a libertarian or a limited-government conservative. Locke argued that governments were necessary to secure the rights of individuals.

One of the core concepts of true liberalism is that people should be as free as possible to live according to their own principles, which includes the right to form or join associations.

If you want to create a pressure group to convince others to become vegans, because it will spare animals or save the planet or whatever, liberalism requires that I respect your freedom to do so. Liberalism also requires, however, that you respect my rights to stay out of your group and to speak against it.

On a public university campus, in particular, a basic liberal understanding of the rights of free expression and free association would lead inevitably to the kind of policy that the UNC system just adopted. If a student group or professor invites a speaker to campus, you and I have the right to attend or not attend. If I attend and you show up at the auditorium with your comrades to shout down the speaker, so that I and other audience members can’t hear her, you aren’t exercising free expression or free association. You are suppressing the freedom of others. There is no “heckler’s veto.”

The ACLU and AAUP apparently think otherwise. In its statement against the UNC policy, the ACLU speculated that “peaceful protesters chanting outside an event being held in a campus building could be shut down and face harsh consequences, not for blocking an entrance or shouting violent threats, but for simply chanting loudly outside.” The AAUP asserted that the policy showed “a preference for speech over counter-speech, which is contrary to First Amendment law.”

This is pretty simple, really. If protesters are shouting so loudly outside the door that the audience can’t hear the speaker, the protesters aren’t engaging in “counter speech.” They are trying to suppress other people’s rights. The precise location of the protest can’t possibly be a sufficient defense. Would the ACLU or AAUP think it acceptable for outside protesters to employ bullhorns, sirens or loudspeakers? If not, why not?

Describing such behavior as “counter speech” protecting by the First Amendment would be idiotic and appalling.

We all know from recent experience what the game is here. Left-wing groups want to shut down campus speakers they don’t like. Real liberals will always say no to that.

John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on the talk show “NC SPIN.” You can follow him @JohnHoodNC.

Comments

News

From poult to Thanksgiving centerpiece, Evans Family Farm knows how to raise turkeys

Education

Catawba, Livingstone not bringing students back until after the holidays

Education

‘Just because’: Partners in Learning surprises staff with $15,000 in bonuses, turkeys

Local

Few applications received for state’s child care, remote learning assistance grant

Local

Girls Scouts pack meals for Meals on Wheels Rowan

Education

RCCC offering solutions for students wanting to jumpstart their college education

Education

PetSmart donation to Essie Mae Kiser Foxx

Crime

Salisbury Police ready to roll out regional crime center before end of the year

Education

Shoutouts: North Hills Christian School announces homecoming king and queen

Local

‘An icon of China Grove:’ Former China Grove Elementary students remember custodian Carl Wilkerson

College

Catawba basketball: The struggle to play the games

News

What are Salisbury, Rowan County leaders thankful for in 2020?

Christmas Happiness

Faith American Legion Auxiliary gives to Christmas Happiness Fund to honor vets

Local

‘Tis the Season Spectacular Christmas parade provides entertainment, holiday spirit

Coronavirus

Four new COVID-19 deaths, total of 131 reported in Rowan

BREAKING NEWS

Operations suspended, inmates transferred from Piedmont Correctional’s minimum security facility

Crime

Man charged with failing to register as sex offender

Crime

Police say DNA evidence ties Salisbury man to bank robbery attempt

News

Catawba College researchers say invasive beetle will kill significant portion of ecological preserve’s ash trees

Elections

Dr. Fauci, Kanye West, Jesus Christ among presidential write-in candidates in Rowan County

Crime

Salisbury Police receive grant for social justice, racial equity training

Local

When weather turns cold, where do Rowan County wildlife go?

Crime

Blotter: Salisbury man charged faces marijuana charge after being served with unrelated warrant

Coronavirus

Local health officials see record testing numbers ahead of Thanksgiving