Free speech, different ideas should flourish at nation's universities

Posted: Monday, July 07, 2003

Once upon a time, college campuses in this country prided themselves on being havens of enlightenment places where vigorous public policy debate flourished and dissenting opinions were welcomed, if not embraced. In light of modern standards, however, many people may not be aware of the original intent.

A recent incident illustrates how much things have changed ... for the worse.

A student was stopped when he attempted to place a flier on a public bulletin board of the Multicultural Center of a California university. The flier promoted a speech that was to be delivered on campus by a conservative black author.

A group of other students, saying they were offended, told him it would violate campus policy to post the flier. After he left to check the policy, which indeed did permit the posting, the others called university police and complained that he had disrupted their Bible study by distributing racial material.

It turned out that their meeting had not started. The flier was not racist and the "disruption" was initiated by the protesters who had approached the student. Nevertheless, university officials declared he had created a disruption and threatened possible expulsion if he didn't apologize in writing.

Clearly, it violates the First Amendment to penalize someone for trying to post a simple, factual flier encouraging people to attend a lecture on a legitimate public policy issue and to do so purely because some disliked the position that the speaker planned to advocate. Democracy suffers when intellectual diversity is stymied. It is only by being exposed to a smorgasbord of ideas that young people can form sound opinions ... and thus mature into responsible, knowledgeable citizens.

If the protesters really thought it was in everybody's interest to enroll in as many government programs as possible, they should have recruited their own speaker then let both ideas rise or fall on their own merits.

As a wit once said, "Where all people think alike, few people think at all."

Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

July 5

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