Monday, June 5, 2017

Tolerating intolerable speech: change may be needed, but no need for legislative interference

UW should protect all speech, but proposed bill in the legislature isn’t necessary

Just a quick rant this afternoon...

The question of the so-called “free speech” bill making its way through the state legislature has me thinking a lot about the idea of what speech is tolerable or not.

I’m a firm believer in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I even own a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol Building in 2010 to honor that amendment, which includes speech rights. I’m a huge proponent that any political thought or opinion should be defended — even if it’s deemed an intolerable idea by most.

So bigots do have a right to speak their mind, and they do have a right to demonstrate their ideas. But that doesn’t mean that others can’t argue against them.

Speech that some deem intolerable can be protested against, and this type of speech shouldn’t be regulated either, except to prevent violence and harm to others. If protests limit the ability of people to speak in a public setting, that is unfortunate, and there should be ways to redress that. But protest, too, is speech; and it must be recognized as such.

The University of Wisconsin System needs to find ways to allow conservatives — yes, even right-wing extremists — the ability to speak in public on their property. And they need to find ways to limit interferences to those speakers, to allow a free market of ideas to exist.

But they needn’t be required to do so through legislative action that seeks to quell other forms of free speech. Protesters have rights as well, and the right to protest any speaker that comes to UW should not be infringed either.

I’m confident that the UW System can find a balance on its own. Legislators in the state capitol should advise and comment on whatever approach the UW takes — but they needn’t do so by requiring restrictive laws that limit the rights of students, faculty, and other members of the public.

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