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Free speech is a fundamental right

By Scott Tibbs, November 19, 2003

"Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech" -- The First Amendment

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States" -- The Fourteenth Amendment

Rahsaan Bartet's November 13 editorial raises some points that need to be addressed.

First, Bartet includes the Thomas Hart Benton mural in Woodburn Hall in a list of examples of "degrading and dehumanizing events that have marginalized students." This assault on the truth needs to be put to rest once and for all.

he Benton mural in Woodburn Hall stirred up controversy in the beginning of 2002 because it contains a depiction of a cross burning by the Ku Klux Klan. The mural is a portrayal of Indiana history. It is in no way an endorsement of the KKK. Thomas Hart Benton was an opponent of the Klan and their racist agenda. The image of the KKK rally is behind a larger and more prominent image of racial harmony, a white nurse treating a black baby. Those who wish to see the mural removed would throw out this image along with the KKK image.

Unfortunately, the KKK is part of Indiana history, and is depicted along with many other images from that time period. Bartet and others would censor history if it hurts someone's feelings. While some may complain that the mural by itself does not have the context of why it was painted, the people who are supposedly "hurt" by the sight of this painting are university students and should be able to research the matter for themselves.

Yet, Indiana University is a campus where Alexis Silas actually wrote in a dissent to an IDS staff editorial: "The University's mission is to educate, and perhaps this controversial artwork is educational. But education shouldn't come at the expense of someone's feelings."

Bartet echoes this statement in his column:

IU has allowed these groups and people that have hurt minorities to remain cloaked behind their First Amendment right. However, as in life, there are limits to this amendment. How long will IU allow these groups and people to trample on the mental psyche of these students?
Exactly what "limits" does Bartet hope to establish? That if something damages the fragile emotions of a few hypersensitive crybabies, that it should be censored?

What Bartet and others are actually trying to silence is dissent. If a homosexual does not want to hear someone describe his lifestyle as sinful, that speech should be censored. There are multiple pro-homosexual groups on this campus, both student groups and official University offices, and many other students, faculty and staff who will offer a rebuttal to the opinions expressed by Professor Rasmusen.

As to the bake sale, there are several groups on this campus that support affirmative action. IU provides several programs that support racial diversity. Columnists and letter-writers in the IDS pontificate on why affirmative action is needed.

Any claim that things like the "affirmative action bake sale" or Rasmusen's Web log creates a hostile environment for homosexual or black students collapses under its own weight. This is a campus where liberal/Leftist thought, especially on social issues, is in a clear majority. But an outpouring of support for homosexuals in the wake of the controversy on Rasmusen's blog, and the myriad of affirmative action supporters on this campus are not enough. No, because remarks critical of homosexuality or in opposition to race-based preferences threaten the feelings of a few students, there is a call for censorship.

At the heart of a university's mission is education through the free exchange of ideas. As adults, these students should be able to deal with ideas and speech that makes them uncomfortable. If these adults cannot handle dissent, they should reconsider whether or not they belong in a university environment.

IU acted properly in refusing to violate the Committee for Freedom's Constitutional rights. While I am happy that the administration did the right thing, I am reluctant to heap further praise upon them for it. It seems backward to praise a state university for NOT violating student rights.

Finally, there is a warning for Indiana University's administration in the text of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. As a state university, IU cannot censor or otherwise punish students for expressing their opinions. Bartet can plead with the University to censor ideas that hurt his feelings as much as he wants, but IU has no power to do so. Furthermore, IU is funded by the Indiana State Legislature. Any attempt by IU to illegally censor the free exchange of ideas is likely to be met with disapproval in Indianapolis, which could endanger IU's funding.