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Free Speech must not be trampled

By Scott Tibbs, November 15, 1998

The November 10 rally in opposition to the distribution of white supremacist literature by the so-called "White Nationalist Party" led by IU Sophomore Ben "August" Smith has focused the attention of Bloomington on hate speech. But in the zeal to denounce such offensive speech, we must be careful not to allow free speech to be trampled in an emotional stampede.

First, let me say that I find the beliefs of the WNP to be offensive and wrong. The racist tone of the literature is troubling, as are the anti-Christian beliefs of the WNP. But no matter how much I disagree with the beliefs of the WNP, I recognize that they have a right to free speech, and that must never be compromised no matter how much we disagree with the content of that speech.

The rally by Bloomington United was the correct response to the hate literature distributed around Bloomington. It showed that Bloomington rejects hate, and that the citizens of Bloomington embrace tolerance. As has been said many times, the answer to hate speech is more speech.

But not all people who attended Bloomington United's rally were concerned with free speech. The IDS quoted a Bloomington resident as comparing Smith's defense of his right to continue the literature distribution campaign to the ability to "tell porn jokes to a 3-year-old kid." Others, including Bloomington Mayor John Fernandez, indicated tat the behavior of Smith and the WNP will not be tolerated.

But what is most disconcerting about this entire scenario is the attempt to legal means to intimidate Smith and end his literature campaign. The Bloomington Human Rights Commission, an extension of city government, is keeping track of the literature distribution campaign under the auspices of tracking "hate crimes". This is silly. The WNP literature may be offensive, but to lump political speech in with intimidation or physical violence is a dangerous step in the wrong direction.

Also disturbing is the reaction of the Indiana University administration to this political speech. The July 7 Herald-Times reported that Dean of Students Richard McKaig warned Smith that his status as a student would be in jeopardy if he were to distribute the flyers on campus. This is a blatant restriction on free speech, and cannot be tolerated. If today the WNP is prevented from distributing political literature on campus, who is next? Will the College Republicans or IU Students for Life be prevented from using flyers to recruit members or advertise for mass meetings if their literature is labeled as "offensive"?

A university is supposed to be a place where the free exchange of ideas is not only allowed, but also encouraged. Lost in Indiana University's desire to expand "diversity" in terms of race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation is the need to protect and encourage ideological diversity. No matter how inflammatory some ideas are, we cannot trample free speech in the name of protecting people from being offended.

The university has also showed great hypocrisy in its desire to trample on the free speech rights of the WNP. While the WNP was "investigated" by the university and Ben Smith was prohibited from distributing flyers on campus under threat of expulsion, the Animal Defense League was freely allowed to distribute "wanted posters" of IU professors involved in biomedical research. These wanted posters, and the ADL web page, had the home phone number and e-mail addresses of Preston Garraghty and George Rebec, encouraging students to harass them in the name of "speaking out against animal cruelty". While IU attempts to deny the White Nationalist Party's free speech rights, it allows the Animal Defense League to harass IU Professors. The hypocrisy of Pam Freeman and Dean McKaig is what is really offensive here.

In addition, limiting free speech to protect fragile souls from being offended only makes martyrs out of Ben "August" Smith and his ilk. This is not wise, because it only generates sympathy for people who deserve none. We do not need to limit free speech in the name of diversity. In fact, we should be protecting free speech, because ideological diversity is the most precious diversity of all.