That University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon chant? They guys who did it are complete assholes. They would not be welcome in my home. And SAE is quite right to expel them from its organization, which is private and has the right to admit and expel members as it sees fit.
But…the government has no authority to take any action against them whatsoever. Here’s a statement from the university’s president, from the link above:
To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you. You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves “Sooners.” Real Sooners are not racist. Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members.
That is just fine, as far as it goes—I agree with the sentiment. But he went further—he expelled 2 of them summarily. No due process, no recognition that what he was doing was not condemning the “misuse” of free speech—but DENYING free speech altogether. Speech can and should have consequences—but never from the government. The Nazis do get to march at Skokie—and the anti-Nazis do, too.
The correct answer to bad speech is more speech.
Eugene Volokh covers the finer legal points better than I can. But my concern is broader than that. While the SAE chant is thoroughly racist and offensive, what constitutes “racism” these days? Criticism of gun-grabbing Obama? Opposition to affirmative action? Reaching the “wrong” conclusion in the Brown or Garner cases? Specifying racial preferences when you sign up for online dating? Why, just ask Lois Lerner and her colleagues at the IRS whether you’re racist or not—but don’t tell her you own a gun or believe in limited government.
We protect racism and pornography and assholes generally not because we like them, but because protecting their rights protects ours. The gun rights fight is no different; I personally have no particular desire to own an AR pistol, but I confess myself mightily annoyed that the ATF won’t let you put a forward pistol grip on it without a tax stamp. Who the hell are they to tell me how I configure my guns? OK, I don’t own and don’t want one. But if someone else does, he should have it!
There are a lot of people talking about “hostile educational environments” and “balancing” and similar–how shall I put this?–bullshit. If this was something they did in class, or in front of the Black Student Union, then maybe it would be fair to talk about such things–whether this was a true threat to someone, or disruptive to the educational mission, or similar legitimate considerations. But this appears to be a private function and a leaked video. To say that because other students are upset (rightly! They should be upset!) these students can be expelled is to make one’s admission to taxpayer-provided benefits dependent on the emotional state of other people. That is equivalent to saying you can’t carry a gun because it scares some hysterical op-ed writer. Her feelings trump your rights!
The government doesn’t deserve the power to cause you harm because of your views, no matter how repulsive, no matter how unpopular. If we don’t stand for the rights of people we despise, then there is no grounds for us to object when people who despise us come after us. I stand with the OU frat boys not because I like them, but precisely BECAUSE I dislike them. You should, too.
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