Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Open Forum: (Free Speech) Where do We Draw the Line?

A few interesting and controversial headlines have popped up in the news and the gay blogosphere that raise some important questions. At what point is gay activism intruding upon free speech and freedom of expression rights? Freedom of speech and expression must be protected even for anti-gay forces, because if we don't have these basic freedoms it becomes a slippery slope and eventually we will not have the right to express our opinions.

I write this in light of some stories recently, such as a student who wore a t-shirt to school saying "Be Happy - Not Gay!" at a diversity event, who got in trouble. The courts have since ruled she is entitled to wear the shirt.

What about Crystal Dixon's case with the University of Toledo V.P. of Human Resources who outside the university wrote an opinion column denouncing homosexuality, claiming it is a choice. She has been fired under grounds that she mentioned she was a worker at the school and is now suing the school.

Finally there was the case at Smith College, where the College Republicans brought in Ryan Sorba who created a book called "The Born Gay Hoax" who spoke about bogus research regarding LGBT people. Students interrupted his anti-gay speech by screaming "We're Here, We're Queer, get used to it" the student protesters overwhelmed the room forcing Mr. Sorba to leave the campus and cancel his speech.

Youtube clip of the Smith protest:

What do you think about GLBT activism and where do we draw the line to ensure free speech rights, or is it okay to intrude upon the free speech of others when they seek to intrude on our civil liberties and spread falsehoods about our community?


Avory said...

Good question!

I watched that video last week and as much as I was cheering and dancing along with them, I was thinking about free speech rights of the speaker. In that case, I don't think they necessarily should have stopped him from speaking (even though no one could hear his speech anyway). Constitutionally, "heckler's vetos" aren't allowed. The only time in which a hostile audience justifies regulation on the speaker is in a case where danger/violence is imminent and there isn't enough police to protect the speaker. In this case, it didn't look to me at least like the students were violent. On the other hand, they definitely had the right to go in there and chant (at least constitutionally, who knows whether they were breaking any school rules). I think asking the man to leave probably just gave the conservatives fodder.

I'm very strongly in favour of free speech for anyone, and I think in most (but not all) cases the Supreme Court has it right. I'm okay with current doctrine, which leaves narrow exceptions for threats, "fighting words," etc (though the fighting words doctrine does have a nasty little gendered component).

By the way, I keep meaning to actually reply to your comment on the foodblog, but since I'm here - the original recipe for the quinoa was with soymilk, I just de-veganized because I don't normally buy soy. But just so you know, it's been tested vegan and is reportedly tasty that way :-)

Queers United said...

Judith I'll have to try that recipe and get back to you =)

On a sidenote look whose blog I found. Mr. Ryan Sorba the anti-gay speaker who spoke at Smith.


Tara said...

Well for me it is all about litigation. In the first example it would have depended on the diversity event. If it was on private property then anyone can be made to leave. If public then the shirt must be accepted. In the second case if the school did not want to be mentioned they can fire her for that. My girl cannot wear her work shirt outside of work for that reason. What you say and do reflects on your environment. The employee should have stated her opinion without mentioning where she works. Finally in the last one I agree with Judith. If he is allowed to say his piece then everyone else is too. Shouting him down may not be the enlightened path, but it is an acceptable one.

Anonymous said...

This is really a non-issue, IMHO. Canada has hate speech laws that are perfectly in line with their Charter of Rights. Basically, any speech that encourages hatred of a specific group is illegal. This allows for reasoned discussion, but not "kill all x" or "God hates x" types of things. I see no reason why the US couldn't adopt similar laws and still be within our Constitution.

Incidentally, most Americans actually misunderstand what the First Amendment actually does. In terms of freedom of speech, all it does is protect individuals from GOVERNMENT restriction of speech in private spaces that one personally owns and publicly controlled spaces (city parks, for instance.)

Private citizens are still well within their rights to limit speech within their own spaces (for instance, you can get kicked out of a bar or off of a message board for what you say.) And the government actually does have the right to limit time and manner of speech if not content. And even so, content is still regulated, as regards things like defamation and copyright law.

Legally speaking, you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater. You can't incite others to violence. And, IMHO, you also shouldn't be able to incite hatred of people in a protected class.

Anonymous said...

As a gay man, I am constantly challenged to speak out against anti-gay slurs. Most of the time I do -- quite vocally :) However, at the same time, I am very clear that I fully support the right of those opposed to me to say whatever they wish.

Freedom of speech is exactly that. It is not 'freedom of speech that we approve of'. It is also not 'freedom of speech that no one is offended by, or that is not palpably false, or that doesn't threaten anyone'. As an American citizen, I am free to say whatever I wish, to whomever I wish.

The only valid response to hate-speech is the truth. It is showing the lie, demonstrating the truth, and doing so in a constructive way. Restrictions and censorship gains nothing.

Avory said...


I hope you don't mind my hopping in on the discussion. I think it's possible that a very carefully-drawn hate speech statute could pass constitutional muster, and I'm all in favour of it, but when you say people "in a protected class," you're going to run into constitutional problems. That sounds like some of the cross-burning statutes that were overturned because they were targeted (broadly, even) at a particular type of content. You might find a way to ban hateful speech as a restriction on manner if you were very careful not to include "too much speech" as our dear Justices tend to put it (I want to say it's Stevens who's always using that phrase?) but if you say, for example, no hateful speech against a particular race, religion, orientation, etc, it'll get struck down because it's content based. I'm not saying that's a good restriction, but that's how I read the US case law so far.

Miss Vicki said...

WoW! With only 8 minutes of footage I'd like to know what was accomplished and resolved behind this.

As you said freedom of speech can be a slippery slope. It's not always accomplished by who screams the loudest or who makes the most noise.

I would like to have been there to see what the LGBT community and their supporters did prior to the event taking place. Did they reach out try to make any statements/leadway prior to the doors opening. Or did they just decide to make their statement as seen on video?

If so, I wonder how many people did they reach vs how many people did they lose solely on the presentation that was shown.

I don't want Gay Rights just my Civil Rights. Civil Rights nor Human Rights have anything to do w/my Sexual Orientation and that's how I fight for what is due to me and us.

Thanks for stopping by today, been off balance with an asthma attack. Thank the Universe I can breathe again....Ahhhh!

Have a Blessed Day,

Dreki said...

I really don't think they should have interrupted. They wouldn't be pleased if a pro-gay speaker came up and suddenly people protested with anti-gay catchphrases and signs and such, why do the same to them?

Staying and protesting from outside is one thing- but actually entering the room and standing up in front of the speaker? Crowding him out of the way while shouting? Then refusing to leave even after getting rid of him? (at the end the switch to "hell no, we wont' go")

It's his right to speak as much as it is theirs to protest, and I really doubt they convinced anyone in that room that it's a good idea to, as they say, "Get used to it".

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Queers United said...

Ry, I am mixed on this. On one hand if it is a private event, protesters shouldn't be allowed to disturb it. On the other hand this is a university which is publicly funded. Does that give people the right to walk into a classroom and start making ruckus though? This calls into question free speech rights, privacy rights, and maybe we can make a new category lol listening rights?

Anonymous said...

It's hard tot ell. You could protest a class about evolution- but how many people do you know actually would? Most people have the courtesy to make their annoyance known quietly either by talking to people in charge or just getting it so they weren't responsible for knowing that bit.

This guy's got a right to his opinion, a right to express it, and wasn't exactly doing so loudly or with great vigor of "we have to destroy these heathens" or anything. Do they really think that anyone who was listening to that lecture are the kind of people that would be impressed by that display? What did they hope to achieve?

Rob said...

I do not support protests like this, usually it makes the people protesting look silly. What would be better, is after the speech, have a rebuttal time. Since Ryan Sorba's arguments are not that good, it is not hard to counter his agenda.

Queers United said...

I found the protest video pretty empowering, but I do believe Ryan should have been able to speak. If people listen to what he says they will pretty much laugh anyway because it is so outlandish.

Anonymous said...

I'm not at all sure that Ryan should have been allowed to make his speech.
Would we all think it was appropriate to allow some Aryan Brotherhood type to make a speech espousing the value of re-enslaving all the black and latino people within America's borders?
I'm pretty sure he would not be allowed to make that speech. Black people would have shouted him down if the legal authorities had not removed him.
Ryan's speech was clearly about building support for the repression of gay people, and as such, I think it came under the heading of "hate" speech. It was an event hosted by a political organization, so his words, by definition, were instruments of political power. That's different from a private conversation.
The problem, of course, is that our current regime is all about repressing gay citizens.


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