Given all the reasons to fear that the end might be near (global warming and the spectre of nuclear or biological terrorism to name just a few,) you might expect people to gain some sense of perspective about the “dangers” of free speech. You would be wrong.
Speech phobias are on the rise. They're partly related to sex phobias, and they partly reflect widespread liberal abandonment of civil liberty when it makes previously subordinated groups uncomfortable. (Liberals often treat whatever they consider anti-gay or racist speech the way neo-puritans treat whatever they consider pornography.) Consider these recent cases: In Westchester, three 16-year-old high school girls were suspended for using the word “vagina” during a recitation of The Vagina Monologues after they had been warned not to use the V-word. The students were not censored, school officials claimed: they were punished for “insubordination.” In Santa Rosa California, a student was disciplined (a note was placed in her file) when she uttered the phrase “that’s so gay.” The student, Rebekah Rice, a Mormon was being teased by her classmates about her religion and responded, “That’s so gay,” when asked if she had “10 moms.” (Her parents are suing the school.) In Merton College, Oxford (of all places) students have been also been chastised for using the term gay as an all purpose put-down, thereby creating “an uncomfortable atmosphere in college.” This ruling came in response to a complaint by a student who was offended by language used in a pool game: “You missed that shot you big gay.” Students were officially warned not to “use terms like ‘gay” and ‘poof’ as joking insults. Please be aware that using language like this is unacceptable and extremely offensive, even if you are not being intentionally malicious and think you are being ironic or witty in some way.” In Pasadena, California, a high school student was disciplined for wearing a tee-shirt expressing his religious objections to homosexuality. (The federal court of appeals for the 9th circuit upheld the school’s power to censor anti-gay speech, in an aggressively anti-libertarian opinion that the Supreme Court subsequently vacated. In New York City, (supposedly a land of tolerance and freethought) the City Council unanimously approved a resolution declaring “a symbolic moratorium on the use of the n-word in New York City.” Civil libertarians who naively expected the ACLU to object must have been disappointed: Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union shrugged off the resolution: “The Council is entitled to a point of view,” she explained. “It would be an entirely different matter if the Council was considering a law to ban use of the n-word.” If Lieberman’s statement seems reasonable to you, try to imagine her issuing a similar statement of support for a symbolic moratorium on flag-burning, criticism of the President, or use of the V-word. “Schools should be encouraging students to express themselves freely, not silencing dialogue." Lieberman stated, in her predictable defense of the Westchester Three.