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Silverglate was once hired by faculty members at the University of Wisconsin who objected to a speech code intended to protect minorities, women and gays from offensive expression.
“I didn't actually win that battle. You know who won it? A gay student got up and said, ‘If you’re looking to have a speech code to protect me, don’t do it, because I actually like knowing who hates me. It’s useful. It tells me when I should watch my back.’”
Silverglate started a group to protect speech on college campuses, FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (thefire.org). His co-founder was Alan Charles Kors, with whom he wrote The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on American Campuses.
FIRE lawyers defended students at Northern Arizona University who wanted to hand out small American flags to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. They planned to distribute the flags outdoors, but it rained. So they went inside the student union, where four different university officials told them to stop.
The students refused, and two were charged with violating the student code. FIRE helped the students get media coverage that pointed out that the First Amendment protects students at public institutions. The school dropped its case against the students.
Several colleges used to have rules requiring that all student protest be held in a small, out-of-the-way “free speech zone” on campus. FIRE mocked these as “censorship zones,” and colleges have gotten rid of most of these restrictive rules.
FIRE often strikes blows for free speech simply by bringing unfavorable publicity to a heavy-handed school. As Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sometimes sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at www.johnstossel.com.