Supreme Court

Trigger Warning: Free Speech Ahead

From college campuses to political protests, free speech is under attack.

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Any day now, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a free-speech case that could cement a dangerous precedent—one establishing a de facto double standard in government's favor.

The case stems from the election season of 2004, when a group of 200 or so protesters showed up near a Jacksonville, Oregon, restaurant where George W. Bush was eating. They started chanting about Bush's polices on war and the environment. After 15 minutes or so, the Secret Service decided that was enough anti-Bush speech for the day. Agents instructed local law enforcement to move the demonstrators—which was done, with riot police firing plastic bullets.

A pro-Bush demonstration nearby was allowed to continue unimpeded.

Michael "Mookie" Moss and his anti-Bush compadres have a strong claim that the disparate treatment violated their First Amendment rights. But they are spitting into the wind of a two-year-old precedent. In 2012, the Supreme Court said Secret Service agents enjoyed qualified immunity in arresting Steven Howard, who accosted Vice President Dick Cheney and told him his "policies in Iraq are disgusting."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that "officers assigned to protect public officials must make singularly swift, on-the-spot, decisions whether the safety of the person they are guarding is in jeopardy. In performing that protective function, they rightly take into account words spoken to, or in the proximity of, the person whose safety is their charge."

You can see the sense in that. At the same time, though, you can see how such a policy creates a bias in favor of the government: People who oppose the incumbent party's policies are more likely to be considered potential threats than people who support them.

A similar problem bedevils the 35-foot-buffer zone around Massachusetts abortion clinics that the high court also is scrutinizing this term. Defenders of the buffer zone claim it does not violate the Constitution because it is a neutral rule that applies to everyone and is meant merely to ensure safe access to abortion clinics. As Boston Globe writer Jeff Jacoby noted earlier this year, "that concern is understandably taken seriously in the state where John Salvi murdered two employees of Planned Parenthood clinics in 1994."

But as Jacoby also notes, murder, the use of physical force, and even the threat of physical force are already against the law. Federal law prohibits obstructing access to a clinic. The Massachusetts buffer zone, then, seems designed to protect potential clients from the discomfort of close proximity to abortion protesters.

That impression was reinforced during oral arguments, when Justice Samuel Alito hypothesized two women within the buffer zone—one telling a potential client "this is a safe facility," and the other telling her, "this is not a safe facility." The only difference between the two, he noted, "is that they've expressed a different viewpoint." Yet under the current statute one of them—the anti-abortion protester—has violated Massachusetts law and the other has not. Once again, a safety rationale enables viewpoint discrimination.

Many American universities are subordinating free speech not merely to physical safety but to emotional equilibrium. The problem extends beyond campus speech codes and "free-speech zones," both of which have received considerable attention in recent years. On many campuses, certain viewpoints are considered so inherently offensive that they require silencing.

The Harvard Crimson recently published a student essay arguing that academic freedom should be eliminated and replaced with "academic justice," which would ensure the university did not permit "research promoting or justifying oppression." (At Harvard, that could cover just about anything.) Two Rutgers campuses have voted to rescind speaking invitations to Condoleezza Rice, although Nancy Pelosi remains welcome to speak. On the Santa Barbara campus of the University of California, associate professor of feminist studies Mireille Miller-Young recently snatched anti-abortion signs from two protesters and stormed away, calling them "terrorists."

A column in the student newspaper accused the pro-lifers of "selfishly abusing" freedom of speech: "UCSB prides itself on inclusivity and diversity, yet these groups have actively chosen to ignore the myriad people these images negatively impact. … These groups have failed to give students the right to choose to partake in such events, stripping individuals from their choice to practice self-care in topics as deep as abortion." The pro-lifers, said the student author, should have given everybody a warning first — an idea that received approval in the liberal magazine Salon.

Advance warning of potentially upsetting free speech doesn't apply only to pictures of dead fetuses. On some campuses, it also applies to The Great Gatsby, Downton Abbey, Glee, and Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart—all of which have been recommended as material meriting a "trigger warning."

Trigger warnings provide advance notice of potentially disturbing material. According to a piece by Jenny Jarvie in The New Republic, they started on Internet forums for victims of abuse who might be upset by certain graphic descriptions that could "trigger" post-traumatic stress. From there they jumped to college campuses, where their use was broadened to cover anything that might possibly offend anyone.

At UC Santa Barbara (again!) students recently passed a resolution demanding mandatory trigger warnings on all class syllabi. Oberlin has produced an official policy on trigger warnings that covers "racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression." (Cissexism is bigotry directed at transgender people.) Trigger warnings have become so widespread Slate called last year the "Year of the Trigger Warning."

Trigger warnings are not censorship per se, though they certainly are censorious: They convey the message that a book, play, or newspaper article is suspect, simply because someone reading it might experience emotional discomfort. Yet many works of art and literature are produced precisely in order to produce emotional discomfort, and thereby raise the conscience of the audience.

Suggesting that people should be protected from emotional discomfort, then, implies that they should not be challenged to think too hard—or even think at all—about certain things. As Jarvie writes, "Structuring public life around the most fragile personal sensitivities will only restrict all of our horizons. Engaging with ideas involves risk, and slapping warnings on them only undermines the principle of intellectual exploration." That trigger warnings have gained any purchase on college campuses contradicts the very purpose of a university.

They also are inimical to the ideals of free expression. The Constitution guarantees everyone a right to speak his or her mind. It guarantees nobody the right to go through life cocooned away from anything he or she would rather not hear. Those principles apply to everyone—from the lowest college freshman to the president of the United States.

This article originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. Koch Kreationist Konspiracy!!11

    Billionaire Brothers open a new front in The War Against Science:

    Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies.

    The Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity is also a major player. In the last year alone, it has worked to promote subsidies for private schools in 10 states, including Maine, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin

      1. That’s what I get for working rather than reading H&R. It’s all over the place today.

        I suppose the unregulated trafficking in deadly neurotoxic powerful stimulants has been covered as well.

        1. In other news, people are still selling Draino, antifreeze, and bleach! Will Someone think of the Chillunz!!!1

    1. So are they just going to ignore that David Koch funded a Smithsonian exhibit on Human Origins?

      The exhibit is ran by a paleontologist who wants to show how humans became human. Not a war on science.

      1. Shhh. Narrative.

      2. Yeah that and half of the dinosaur wing of the NYC natural history museum. I must have missed the diorama with Mary and Joseph riding velociraptors…

  2. “Iron My Shirts”

  3. What is it about universities that attracts so many fascists?

    1. “Beardo the Weirdo may have been laughed out of real life…”

      It is a sanctuary… safety from the real world, tenure given to those who salivate at the chance to “mold young minds”.

    2. Fascism was/is an authoritarian mutation of progressivism.

      Fascism now stirs connotations that progressives had to distance themselves from. So they entered academia in droves in order to gradually educate indoctrinate people and drive ‘societal progress’.

      However, the pesky Bill of Rights is getting in the way of their desired final outcome so in order to push the ball across the goal line they now feel sufficiently emboldened to show their true colors.

      Just my two cents.

      1. an authoritarian mutation of progressivism.

        That’s no mutation. Progressives were always authoritarians, right from their origins in the cesspool of puritanism.

        -jcr

  4. [A]ssociate professor of feminist studies Mireille Miller-Young recently snatched anti-abortion signs from two protesters[.]

    Those protesters could sue her for battery.

    1. http://www.wnd.com/2014/03/por…..on-campus/

      A professor of feminist studies who specializes in teaching pornography, queer theory and black film is accused of going berserk at a California pro-life demonstration last week, stealing and destroying an anti-abortion sign and assaulting a teen girl who tried to retrieve it.

      Police are now investigating the events involving Mireille Miller-Young, who teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

      Some woman writer was complaining last week that Miller-Young was the real victim in this incident.

      1. So battery and conversion, then.

      2. Too bad that teen girl didn’t kick the living shit out of her.

        1. Too bad that teen girl didn’t kick the living shit out of her.

          Given that the drooling idiot (Miller-Young if it is not incredibly obvious) is pregnant that would not have been a good idea.

  5. No personal responsibility. Every action is because of an externality. Externalities exist everywhere (privilege).

    I interpret all of this as a justification for violence. They’ve made their case for why they should be allowed to commit violence at will.

    1. “I interpret all of this as a justification for violence.”

      As did the slime-ball professor.

    2. What Scruffy said, in its entirety.

    3. I’m a criminology major at UCI, and there’s pretty much two schools of thought in this incredibly abstract major. The first is the classical school, which more or less lends itself to the idea that people make the ultimate choice on whether or not they want to commit crime, and that they have free will. The second is the positivist school, meaning that people who commit crime do so because of uncontrollable externalities (born into poor family, abusive parents, etc.), and that free will either doesn’t exist or doesn’t apply to these people. Anybody want to wager on what school my professors belong to?

      1. Making good choices is hard.

        /Prog Barbie

        1. It’s not a choice when you don’t have teh free willz.

          1. And I thought the only predestination believers left were my Calvinist relatives in the rural Netherlands….

            1. Ha! I was about to make a Calvinist remark myself, but Calvinists believe in sin. These dipshits don’t even believe in that.

      2. I would hope the former but suspect the latter.

      3. people who commit crime do so because of uncontrollable externalities

        So, your criminology professors are opposed, in principle, to punishing crimes? Isn’t that kind of self-defeating, like being a doctor who doesn’t believe in treating illnesses?

        1. Well that just opens up another subject on the theories of corrections. Yes, most of these professors believe in the rehabilitation theory(there are four other theories). Pretty much, you have to “treat” them while they’re in jail so they don’t reoffend, i.e. spending taxpayer dollars on coloring books, cooking classes, and the occasional talent show.

          1. I haz a confuse. They support locking up people who they say are victims?

            1. It’s for their own good. Just like it will be for you too.

            2. Well they of course are opposed to murder, assault, and the like, and believe they should be imprisoned, but, they believe their sentence should be one of rehabilitation, not harsh punishment. They also more or less reject the drug war and mandatory minimums, although they never outright said it, but it was implied throughout the course. So that was one thing on which I agreed with them.

              1. So, pretty much morally and ethically incoherent. Oddly, the sprinkling of sensible positions only highlights the incoherence.

                Pretty much what I suspected.

      4. Extra credit for correctly picking the nature vs nuture leanings of your profs?

        1. I can’t offer extra credit, but I can give you stock! Loads and loads of stock.

          *rolls stock shares off of toilet paper holder*
          /classic Simpsons

      5. I think that both are true. Every decision we make is influenced by external factors like our genes, how we were brought up and what else we are exposed to in life. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t or don’t choose to do what we do.

        If you choose to harm another person, you should be punished and I don’t care what externalities may have influenced you decision to do so.

        And whether or not the main purpose of prison in rehabilitation or punishment, I think that as a practical matter, some rehabilitative services in prison are a good idea.

        1. Even if this world is utterly deterministic and free will is only an illusion it still makes absolutely no sense to abdicate personal responsibility and consequences of unwanted action. In either scenario or anywhere along a spectrum in between you would want to preserve negative and positive incentives that encourage the desired behavior.

    4. Which would worry me if they weren’t a bunch of pasty neckbeards and barely-able-to-stand vegan sob sisters that hate guns. They actually think that, one day, they’ll get enough politicians in office and be able to use the army to bend society to their will.

      They have all these grand plans and mandates but forgot to build up the brute force needed to enact their utopia.

      1. It appears to me that they have a police force that is largely willing to do whatever as long as they get funded and the opportunity to bash some non-LEO/civilian/serf heads.

  6. Free speech but only for people I agree with.

  7. “A column in the student newspaper accused the pro-lifers of “selfishly abusing” freedom of speech: “UCSB prides itself on inclusivity and diversity, yet these groups have actively chosen to ignore the myriad people these images negatively impact”

    “Abusing”-freedoms?

    This is sort of reminiscent of a cloying mother who concedes that it will be OK to buy little Jimmy his dirt-bike so long as he only rides it in circles in the driveway.

    1. That put things in perspective for me, because it is exactly something my mom would have done.

      1. I bet you played with matches a lot

        1. I had a full blown fireworks factory in the garage in middle school. The fire marshall shut it down before I could turn a profit.

    2. As sarcasmic would say, freedom means following orders.

      1. And asking permission.

        1. That’s what I was missing!

    3. Its the same rhetorical tactic used by gun-grabby progs to pretend that “freedoms” still exist despite their policy aims….

      “Oh, no one wants to take your guns, silly! Never! No way! You can own your guns? No one is stopping *that*!….”

      meanwhile, they make it illegal to
      – buy ammo
      – transport the firearm
      – ever have it loaded
      – make ranges illegal within 100 miles of a school or public road
      – show pictures of it to children
      – speak of said items without committing acts of ‘terroristic threatenings’
      etc.

      and while enacting all of the above ‘sensible common sense regulations’, will continue to hector anyone who claims their rights are being infringed as being ‘ridiculous reactionaries’.

      No, they fully support your “right” to own the item. Its just actually using said item that is completely circumscribed and restricted.

      “UCSB prides itself on inclusivity and diversity”

      please understand that these words don’t mean what you think they mean. Just as “justice” is very different from “freedom” in the proggy lexicon.

      1. Don’t forget the current favorite – make it near impossible to TRANSFER a firearm.

    4. “yet these groups have actively chosen to ignore the myriad people these images negatively impact”

      They are not ignoring them, they are answering them. The pro-lifers are being dismissed and ignored, and so are demonstrating. Demonstrations by their very nature are SUPPOSED to have an impact.

      1. That is very silly. Of course they aren’t ignoring those people. They specifically want the sort of people who would be shocked or upset to see the pictures to see the pictures. That is the whole point. The whole purpose is to shock and appeal to people’s sense of revulsion. I happen think that they are wrong and obnoxious, but that is neither here nor there.

  8. Tolerance means not tolerating intolerance, and any disagreement with the liberal/progressive narrative is considered to be intolerant.

    So when these people limit speech they honestly believe they are being tolerant.

  9. OT: Anyone see that James Rebhorn passed away? Melanoma, I guess.

    Not a blockbuster name, obviously, but one of the better character actors and a very memorable Hollywood “that guy.”

    1. another article:

      Hollywood has lost it’s premiere angry, rich WASPy guy.

    2. The #2 “that guy” in the pantheon!

    3. Oh. That guy.

      1. Yeah, the guy who was in that thing.

        It sucks, but at least he lasted 22 years after getting diagnosed with cancer.

        1. 22 years? Wow! That’s pretty cool. Assuming it wasn’t a miserable 22 years…vaya con Dios, Mister Guy

        2. That’s a pretty good survival time for melanoma.

    4. “Character actor” is the “Possession Receiver” of Hollywood.

      RAAAAAAAAAAAAACIST!

      1. he never got a chance to play the breakout role of a poor black kid trying to make it out of the projects!

        1. Ah yes – the role Steve Martin pioneered

          1. He hates the cans! Stay away from the cans!

  10. Trigger Warning: Article may be offensive to self-important projection-susceptible morons.

    You’ll be hearing from the UCSB Student Union’s lawyer, Hinkle.

  11. “Trigger”
    A brand new way for brain-dead lefties to deny they have any control over their own lives!
    As if they needed a new one; witness our moral midgets posting here claiming they’re glad Obo tells ’em what to do. Some slaves love them some masters!

  12. A similar problem bedevils the 35-foot-buffer zone around Massachusetts abortion clinics that the high court also is scrutinizing this term. Defenders of the buffer zone claim it does not violate the Constitution because it is a neutral rule that applies to everyone and is meant merely to ensure safe access to abortion clinics.

    You ant a 35 foot buffer zone? Buy or lease a big enough lot to have 35 feet of unused space around your business. Don’t go demanding that neighboring businesses or houses or streets accommodate your desire for more privacy.

    1. Besides which, denying all parties free speech does not pass the ‘make no law’ test.

      1. Well, yeah, but…….FEEEEEELZ!!

  13. “Trigger Warning” – if you’re a delicate pussy, probably almost everything I say will offend you. If you get in my face about being offended, I may punch your punchable face.

    You’ve been trigger warned…

  14. Trigger warning: I’m offended by people who are offended by things

  15. Trigger Warning:

    A. Barton Hinkleheimerschmidt
    His name is my name, too!
    Whenever we go out
    people always shout,
    “There goes A. Barton Hinkleheimerschmidt!”
    LALALALALALALA….

  16. Non-proggy campus protestors should probably add a couple of “Trigger Warning – Free Speech Ahead” signs to their repertoire.

    Non-proggy profs (both of them!) should post a similar sign in their classrooms.

  17. I graduated from UCSB, I can promise the ‘trigger warning’ didn’t come from the engineering campus. They used to protest our ‘evil’ material science research and the radioactive chemistry department.

  18. Here’s a hint for the kids and professors at UCSB and Oberlin, if you need a trigger warning before being exposed to “bad” ideas, you don’t belong in academia, or the adult world for that matter. You aren’t so damned precious that the known universe has to shield your oh-so-tender sensitivities means we should treat you as merely an overaged child.

  19. I’m starting to treat trigger warnings like content ratings. I generally won’t watch a program unless it’s VNALS. In other words, if there’s no trigger warning it’s a waste of time.

    1. If there’s no trigger warning, its proggy propaganda. So, yeah.

  20. These are the same people who complain about Fox News and the internet creating echo chambers, yet they want to give people the option of bypassing thoughts they find offensive before even being exposed to them. I love that logic.

    1. How do they expect to debate people who disagree with them?

      1. By knocking down straw men, so pretty much exactly the way they love to debate.

      2. They don’t. They wish to silence people who disagree with them through violence and the threat thereof.

  21. Michael “Mookie” Moss and his anti-Bush compadres have a strong claim that the disparate treatment violated their First Amendment rights […] Agents instructed local law enforcement to move the demonstrators ? which was done, with riot police firing plastic bullets.

    I have to wonder why would the police require to fire rubber bullets at people who were “merely” exercising their 1st Amendment right to protest? Could it be that they weren’t there just to dismplay signs and chant songs? I think there’s much more to the story than what Mr. Hinkle elected to reveal.

    Also, what does this case have to do with the free speech codes in universities? The fact that a group of proggie malcontents had their asses kicked because they would not leave a space in peace paid for by the local taxpayers of Jacksonville, Oregon, does not relate to speech codes in college campuses at all.

    1. I have to wonder why would the police require to fire rubber bullets at people who were “merely” exercising their 1st Amendment right to protest?

      I dunno, maybe you should ask somebody at Kent State that question.

      1. +4 dead in Ohio

    2. The fact that a group of proggie malcontents had their asses kicked because they would not leave a space in peace paid for by the local taxpayers of Jacksonville, Oregon

      As soon as taxpayers pay for it, you don’t get to tell the proggie malcontents that they have to leave.

  22. I’m always left wondering why the phrase “trigger warning” isn’t itself a trigger warning for those affected by gun violence.

    SugarFree, care to respond?

  23. the threat of physical force are already against the law

    Well, it depends on what kind of uniform you wear.

  24. We could really do with some trigger warnings for Warty

  25. We could really do with some trigger warnings for Warty

    1. As well as trigger warnings for double posts

  26. This all represents one more example of the “high-speed wobble” that precedes a catastrophic collapse of balance. And systems rely on balance.

  27. my roomate’s step-aunt makes $67 /hr on the laptop . She has been laid off for ten months but last month her payment was $16399 just working on the laptop for a few hours. site link……
    http://www.Works23.us

  28. “Trigger Warning: Free Speech Ahead”

    I feel the urge to semi-ironically open up every conversation with this line. If someone claims to be triggered, I have plausible deniability. If nobody bites, then it slowly destroys the silly meaning of trigger warnings.

  29. Trigger warnings provide advance notice of potentially disturbing material.

    May I receive a ‘trigger warning’ the next time Diane “Turn ’em All In” Feinstein is about to pontificate about ‘assault weapons’?

    The Constitution guarantees everyone a right to speak his or her mind. It guarantees nobody the right to go through life cocooned away from anything he or she would rather not hear.

    Psh, that old rag. It keeps getting in the way of TEH EMOSHUNZ. Everybody knows that the sensitive pansies among us need to be sheltered from all offensive content. It’s not as if such content is subjective to the beholder or anything.

  30. So, according to the Supreme Court, no one who wants to do harm to one of the Secret Service’s protectees would ever have the idea of milling in with a crowd of his or her supporters.

  31. Check out an interesting interview on trigger warnings on The Buterverse podcast. This comedy podcast tackles the subject of trigger warnings in higher ed. The interview itself begins at min 16:50. It’s definitely worth a listen. Episode 001 – Pulling the Trigger can be found at http://www.thebuter.com

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