Free Speech

"Journalism Professors Demand Iowa State University Disband the College Republicans Over Offensive Tweet"

The University rightly responds: "At the core of this demand is a disconnect between the law and First Amendment freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution, and the desire by many in the campus community to punish those whose comments are hurtful to others."

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Robby Soave at Reason has the story; here's the opening, but you should read the whole thing:

Iowa State University has reaffirmed the free speech rights of conservative students initially under fire for tweeting an edgy comment—thus provoking the ire of several ISU journalism professors who demanded the students be punished.

A few days after the 2020 election, the Twitter account of ISU's College Republicans made this statement: "Everyone, you must arm up, expect these people to try to destroy your life, the elites want revenge on us."

The tweet may have been hyperbolic, but it did not endorse violence. It did not call for violence or encourage armed resistance. At most, it was a trollish right-wing talking point alongside a call to purchase guns.

Nevertheless, ISU interpreted the tweet as a "suggestion of armed activity," in possible violation of university policy. An ISU spokesperson told The College Fix that the matter would be investigated.

This drew the attention of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which defends the free speech rights of students and faculty members. In a letter to ISU, FIRE correctly explained that the tweet was protected by the First Amendment, and the public university could not punish conservative students for their sentiment. "Although the university may legally punish 'true threats'—serious expressions of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence against a particular individual or group of individuals—it may not punish expression that fails to rise to this narrow category of unprotected speech," wrote FIRE….

The university rightly backed off, but two professors decided to demand speech suppression in response:

On November 12, Assistant Professor Kelly Winfrey and Associate Professor Novotny Lawrence of ISU's journalism school circulated a petition signed by more than 750 students, faculty, and alumni. "We are appalled that the Iowa State University administration has decided it will not invoke disciplinary action on…the Iowa State University College Republicans … for a tweet that, having nothing to do with the political nature of the organization, incites violence and creates a campus climate that feels threatening to and isolates students, faculty, and staff of marginalized and historically oppressed populations," they wrote. "Privileging the free speech of those causing harm over the safety of the historically marginalized members of our community furthers the damage."

Here are the key parts of the university's response, which strikes me as generally quite right:

We are writing to address the demands made in your November 12, 2020 letter and petition. Your letter was also addressed to the Faculty Senate's president and the Professional and Scientific Council's executive committee; please be advised that we are not responding on their behalf.

We live in a very divisive time where much of the rhetoric of the day is designed to divide us, with a focus on our differences, rather than to unite us around our common humanity. This type of rhetoric can be personally hurtful and frightening to individuals on our campus. We appreciate and share your concern about the impact this has on members of our community.

The university's Principles of Community are built upon the foundational and aspirational belief that we can have a vigorous debate and exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of courtesy, sensitivity, and respect. Our critical effort to have a diverse and welcoming campus means that we will always have differences of ideas, cultures, experiences, and political ideologies. This is part of the richness of diversity that we strive for. However, when those differences are expressed in hateful rhetoric designed to evoke fear, the entire campus suffers.

Response to demands

Demand 1: Punishing student organizations

At the core of this demand is a disconnect between the law and First Amendment freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution, and the desire by many in the campus community to punish those whose comments are hurtful to others.

Iowa State University, as a public institution, has a total and complete obligation to abide by the First Amendment. Its five freedoms – religion, speech, press, peaceful assembly, and petitioning the government for redress of grievances – are bedrock principles upon which our nation was founded. Upholding the First Amendment also means the university cannot deprive students or student organizations of their rights, or punish them for exercising those rights, except in a very limited set of circumstances such as a direct threat against an individual; severe and pervasive harassment that substantially interferes with students' education; or expression that is paired with criminal conduct (vandalism, for example). Doing so would violate their First Amendment rights in much the same way as forbidding protests, or censoring the university's student newspaper. In short, this demand asks that the university proactively violate the law, and we will not do so.

The tweets that are the focus of this demand are protected speech, and standing alone, they do not violate university policy. The university cannot, and will not, punish students or student organizations for their constitutionally protected expression. Where, however, individual or organizational conduct violates university policy, individuals and organizations will be held accountable under the Student Code of Conduct. For example, the tweet's reference to "arming up" is protected speech not subject to discipline. The conduct of bringing a weapon on campus, however, would violate policy and would lead to disciplinary action. We contacted the student organization in this instance and specifically warned them about conduct, which is distinguished from speech, that could lead to discipline to the organization and its membership.

Demand 2: Changes to the Student Code of Conduct

Student codes of conduct at other universities that have attempted to punish students for speech deemed "hateful," "derogatory," "threatening," "insensitive" or described with other such terms have consistently been struck down as unconstitutional. Moreover, the university cannot establish its own thresholds for threatening or hateful speech that are broader than the limited exceptions currently allowed in federal law. Also, while the Principles of Community are ideals to which we should all aspire, they are neither laws nor policy, and are not enforceable. This does not mean, however, that we should discontinue our efforts to encourage members of the campus community to treat each other with respect….

As an educational institution, it is our charge and responsibility to foster and encourage the understanding of new ideas, the development of expression and thought, and the skill of interacting in a positive way with our community and our world. This responsibility is  not accomplished through suppressing speech or dictating thought. Rather, it is accomplished through education, example, discussion, debate, demonstration and building relationships. We pledge to do more in the coming year to educate the campus community on the history and benefits of the First Amendment, as well as how to exercise its freedoms responsibly, and in ways that are consistent with the Principles of Community….

UPDATE: Here's one way of thinking about this, by the way; say this was a Black Students' Alliance, which wrote, in the wake of a Trump victory: "Everyone, you must arm up, expect these people to try to destroy your life, the [white supremacists] want revenge on us." I take it professors' reaction would generally be, "this is part of a long tradition of American political hyperbole," rather than "oh no, this is inciting violence." Some professors might even add that of course the notion that armed people are harder to oppress is a longstanding trope in American political discourse, whether or not one agrees that this is a good approach for people to take.

Now of course the professors might well say that blacks are "historically marginalized" and Republicans aren't. But thankfully the Bill of Rights applies to all of us, not just those groups that professors happen to favor.

NEXT: Perils of Trump's Conspiracy-Mongering About the Election

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  1. There are still journalism schools? Why? Just to keep the journalism professors out of the bread line?

    1. Why not? Journalism, in one form or another, remains an important profession. One doesn’t need a formal education to be a good journalist (just as one doesn’t a formal computer science / computer engineering education to be a good programmer), but it’s sensible that some universities might want to provide such an education.

      1. Because clearly that is not being taught in this school.

        1. Previous statement undoubtedly based on an exhaustive and thorough survey of approximately 0.0% of the classes taught there.

    2. “There are still journalism schools? Why? ”

      Same reason there are business schools. It gives people with similar interests a chance to meet and network before they have to go get a REAL job.

  2. So next time I hear a “journalist” talk about freedom of the press and how important it is with all the fascism going around, I’ll just remind them of this. Thanks!

    1. As if your opinion has any substantial value.

      1. Oh it does, trust me it does.

        1. If you were actually worthy of trust, you wouldn’t actually have to claim this.

          But…

      2. As if a journalist’s opinion has any substantial value.

        1. I don’t think Mr. Dane is a journalist.
          That would take actual work.

  3. The jews shall punish all those who oppose the chosen agenda….unlike Americans, we don’t give a sh*t what you think.

    1. They punish their enemies yet they let you post here. Maybe they think you’re ridiculous and harmless.

      1. Or maybe this blog is run by gentiles behind the scenes.

        1. Shh! That’s my dirty little secret: I’m actually not a Jew — I just pretended to be one to get in with the real Conspiracy.

          1. I’m in it for the halvah.

          2. You may not be a real Jew, but Pavel sure is. Pavel’s fav, Hitler, sure was, through his maternal grandmother. Both were real schemers, with that maternal mitochondrial Jew DNA, with the haplogroup Eb1b1b1, a. Hebraic desert people DNA. Hitler passed a statute via German lawyers, stating, by law, Jesus and Adolf Hitler were not Jews. Yet another lawyer constructive doctrine. Constructive is a lawyer term for fictitious and for bullshit.

  4. ” . . . punish those whose comments are hurtful to others.”

    Those ‘comments’ are not necessarily ‘hurtful’; just not what the damn little fascists want everyone to kneel to.

    1. I was going to correct that also: everything said can hurt someone; part of being an adult is not letting trivial matters hurt you, and knowing which matters truly are trivial. These professors have shown themselves to not yet be adults.

      1. Another part of being an adult is not throwing tantrums because you didn’t get what you wanted, so these College Republicans, like the general class of Republicans, still needs to progress to adulthood. They also need to let go of wishful thinking, if they want to be taken seriously.

        1. Given the quality of their professors, how could the students possibly progress to adulthood? It appalling that you would excuse and condone state employees advocating unconstitutional acts.

          1. Pointing out that Republicans are throwing tantrums because they didn’t win the Presidency = condoning state employees advocating unconstitutional acts?

            If I WAS an associate, I’d want to work for an adult who can reason well. So, no, I won’t be working for you.

    2. That’s a real problem with all such attempts: what is “hurtful” or “harmful” or “threatening” to someone is almost entirely subjective. This means such rules are easily gamed by bad-faith actors merely *claiming* they need redress from some offense, the offensiveness of which is determined by the rote social justice requirements of a conveniently available Studies class, if not wholly invented out of stardust and spite.

      Less cynically, the whole system is put at the service of the most sensitive, least stable individuals. And while we should not entirely dismiss the “damage” such people feel, neither should we agree with the unspoken demand that they are *never* to be made to feel “hurt” at all. If they are that sensitive, our best help for them is almost certainly NOT to police every comment, thought or statement for their benefit.

      1. “That’s a real problem with all such attempts: what is ‘hurtful’ or ‘harmful’ or ‘threatening’ to someone is almost entirely subjective. ”

        So is “intent” which is a subject for jury deliberation a couple of hundred thousand times per year.

    1. And college Marxians are all sweet and light?

      1. If you can find some, why don’t you ask them?

    2. Washington Monthly article is from 2005.

    3. Was there supposed to be a connection between the sentence you wrote and the 15 year old article you linked to?

      1. It was all the “evidence” he needed to support his thesis. And, sadly,it represents a slightly higher bar than most Progs/Cultural Marxists/SJWs need nowadays.

        1. Why provide evidence to conservatives? They just invent all the supporting evidence they need out of whole cloth for things they want to believe.

  5. In a different world, it would be ironic that it was Journalism professors who were demanding punishment for protected speech.

    Here and now, it merely confirms the total corruption of Journalism as a profession and most journalists as people. Anyone who still calls themselves a journalist in the US should be deeply ashamed of what journalism has become.

    1. “Anyone who still calls themselves a journalist in the US should be deeply ashamed of what journalism has become.”

      This statement becomes even more true if you substitute “Republican” for “journalist”.

      1. 70+ million voters say different

        Gfy

        1. “70+ million voters say different ”

          The fact that stupid people get to vote doesn’t elevate what they voted for into significance. 74 million voters is still more than 70 million.

            1. Assuming that Gfy is what you type when “Gosh, you’re right again!” feels like too many keystrokes:

              Yes, I know.

  6. The Iowa Federation of College Republicans issued a Defederation Statement, stating “After discussion of the matter, we moved to defederate ISU College Republicans on the basis of inflammatory tweets, inappropriate behavior, and a disregard for fellow citizens.”

    Nothing worse than Republican-on-Republican cancel culture.

    1. Republican cancel culture is the original kind.

  7. So… who, exactly, is the violence being called upon in the tweet? Who was the target according to the actual language used? Who was told in the tweet to engage and instigate violence?

    Cause “get ready to defend yourself” is a whole world of difference from “go attack those guys”.

    Defense is offense is possibly the most dangerous contortion of language I have come across to date. It is worse than speech is violence and all the other crazy stuff.

    1. “Cause “get ready to defend yourself” is a whole world of difference from “go attack those guys”.”

      And “get ready to defend yourself” against people who are attacking us with violence is different from “get ready to defend yourself” against people who are attacking us by pointing out that your brand of polititian lost an election.

      1. Except that a holistic look at the context and environment in which this tweet was made, along with an honest look at how the right views their safety in the modern leftist ideology, then this tweet is about far more than a mere election. When you have mobs burning buildings with people inside, mobs demanding fealty from strangers on the street, mobs attacking passive people merely for the politician their have branded on their shirt or hat, when you have innocent people driven out of the public sphere through intimidation… then you realize that defense is being called for as a response to something a little more pressing than “na na na na poo poo… your guy lost an election!” And as such, it is a call to be prepared to protect yourself FROM violence… not to CAUSE violence. So again… defense is offense is literally your claim and you strawman’d the conco so as to sidestep that truth.

        1. “When you have mobs burning buildings with people inside”

          How about when you are just imagining these things?

  8. “…”Everyone, you must arm up, expect these people to try to destroy your life, the elites want revenge on us.”

    ‘The tweet may have been hyperbolic, but it did not endorse violence. It did not call for violence or encourage armed resistance. At most, it was a trollish right-wing talking point alongside a call to purchase guns….’

    1. I think the comment was constitutional. And clearly so.
    2. I slightly disagree with your conclusion. I don’t think that, at most, it was . . . a call to purchase guns. At most, it was a call for students to carry, visibly, their guns onto campus.
    3. I repeat, repeat, that I *still* think the comment is absolutely permissible. Just disagree that Eugene’s reading was the only reasonable one . . . I think my first reaction is just as likely to be correct. And encouraging people to go outside and into public display their guns to others–including on campus, I assume–is not at all the same as merely suggesting that people buy guns. Buying a gun is a private act, conduct that is not at all “in your face,” after all.

    1. Yeah, this is more of a ‘this is the price we pay for freedom of speech’ than ‘this is totally cool and normal and anyone unhappy with it hates freedom.’

      The government absolutely doesn’t get to ban it, because then where do you draw the line, but this absolutely contemplates political violence.

      1. Having the university dissolve their association with your organization doesn’t *feel* like an unconstitutional suppression of speech freedom. Call back when campus security is rounding up Republicans with “I voted” stickers.

        1. Nobody cares about your feelings. The question is what the cases say. If you were my associate, you wouldn’t last long.

          1. If I was your associate, you’d be explaining to a bar committee why you hired an IT administrator with no law license as your associate.

          2. “Nobody cares about your feelings”

            Please point to where I said you did. Or should. Or can.

      2. Political violence by whom? IMHO “be ready to defend yourself” being interpreted as “go commit violence” is more reflective of the listener’s state of mind than the speaker’s. YMMV.

        1. By the right. ‘Arm yourself and prepare; they’re coming after you; they are evil and hate you’ is not a mere ‘defend yourself’ exhortation.

          Also the guns are a clue.

  9. I support cancel culture. Zero tolerance for neo-marxists. The journalism professors should be fired, or else Iowa State should lose its non-profit privileges.

    1. But you are a raving idiot, so normal people don’t have to care what you want.

      1. Your intolerant ranting is impressive. Have you been mentored and coached by Grand Wizard Reverend Arthur Kirkland from the “High Church of Religious Bigotry and Intolerance”?

        1. I’ll admit that the heat:light ratio on a typical James Pollock comment isn’t usually much to write home about, but he’s right on the money here. Daivd Behar is pretty clearly nuts (or else a troll with way to much free time), and their comments are bet ignored.

          1. More personal insult by someone frustrated by the facts.

            1. Here’s the thing:
              Get some facts FIRST and then talk about having the facts on your side.

        2. “Your intolerant ranting is impressive.”

          Doesn’t seem to stop you from trying to one-up it.

      2. James, that is a personal remark. It violates the Fallacy of Irrelevance. Try an argument of fact or of logic. You are obviously not a lawyer, and I have no dispute with you. Have a blessed day.

        If Iowa State had not resisted the journalism professors, I would have demanded that the IRS Non-Profit Office rescind its non-profit privileges.

        1. “You are obviously not a lawyer, and I have no dispute with you.”

          But you’re STILL a raving idiot, so I don’t have to care.

  10. In response…

    “We the College Republicans of ISU feel particularly threatened by Professors from this University seeking to strip us of our right to organize, seeking to marginalize and oppress us. In particular, we are alarmed that these are “journalism” professors, seeking to strip others of their rights, including freedom to publish”

    “We would ask that the these professors resign from the University, since they don’t uphold common standards of Journalism within the United States, including the freedom to publish”.

    1. The freedom to publish is not the same thing as the freedom to publish while publicly associated with the organization. If the person who tweeted this had done so under a personal account with no association to the university, the U would not even have become aware of it.

      1. “freedom to publish while publicly associated with the organization”….

        Arguments like these are how our rights are destroyed…

        1. “You have right to say anything you want. Anyone who listens will be shot”.

        2. “Arguments like these are how our rights are destroyed…”

          Assuming you had such a right in the first place.

      2. So you’re not a big 1st Amendment fan, then.

        1. Do you consider Prof. Volokh a “big 1st Amendment fan?”

          (Asking for Artie Ray, because he can’t ask, because the Volokh Conspiracy banned him for making fun of conservatives.)

        2. “So you’re not a big 1st Amendment fan, then.”

          Unlike you, I understand how the 1st Amendment actually works, which helps me avoid saying stupid things like you just did. Start with, you MEANT to invoke the 14th, not the 1st, but either way, you’re still wrong.

      3. James, that is not the law for a public university. The lIowa legislature should deduct the salaries of the Journalism Department from the University budget until all those neo-Marxists are fired.

        1. “James, that is not the law for a public university.”

          Like you’d know.

    2. Good response. It should be accompanied by night demonstrations at the homes of the neo-Marxist enemy of our nation, loud disruptions of their classes, demands they be expelled from their churches, clubs, supermarkets, families, doctors practices, towns, condos, publication on the internet of th ER ir socialmedia postings.

      1. And yet there you sit, motionless (and silent) on the couch in your basement.

  11. So, Heckler’s Veto is still alive and well.

  12. It’s a good thing for free expression that this incident occurred at Iowa State rather than at the Volokh Conspiracy, which engages in repeated, partisan, viewpoint-based censorship — banning a politically disfavored commenter for making fun of conservatives; removing comments that criticize conservatives; warning liberals against using terms such as “sl_ck-jaw_d’ while permitting conservatives to call for placing liberals face-down in landfills or sent to Zyklon showers — because at the Volokh Conspiracy the censorship sticks.

    THE VOLOKH CONSPIRACY
    This White, male, conservative
    blog has operated for
    135 DAYS
    without using a vile
    racial slur and for
    576 DAYS
    without imposing partisan,
    viewpoint-driven censorship.

    Enjoy the rest of the weekend, everyone — well, everyone who has not been banned from this forum by Prof. Volokh for poking fun at conservatives.

    1. Art. Stop being anti-Semitic. Most neo-Marxists are.

      1. One of the things that dulls the sting of actual anti-Semitism is unsupported (and ridiculous) claims of anti-Semitism.

    2. Haaaahahahaha!!
      So…even though the Volokh Conspiracy is NOT a governmental agency and thereby subject to 1A considerations…you DO think it’s bad to have inconsistent, hypocritical or unevenly applied rules for expression??

      Just say “yes, it’s bad” because I’ve got a couple examples I noticed this year, by organizations much larger and supposedly more committed to “fairness” than this blog. I could share them with you and we could decry them!

      Maybe someone else has noticed one or two?

      1. “So…even though the Volokh Conspiracy is NOT a governmental agency and thereby subject to 1A considerations…you DO think it’s bad to have inconsistent, hypocritical or unevenly applied rules for expression??”

        Depends on whether or not (the subject of discussion) holds themself (selves) out as defending free speech or not. So the Professor can non-hypocritically hold himself out as a defender of 1A rights so long as he is not Congress, because the 1A binds Congress. But it he wants to claim to be a supporter of free speech generally, doing so while actively censoring someone is hypocritical.

  13. Now of course the professors might well say that blacks are “historically marginalized” and Republicans aren’t. But thankfully the Bill of Rights applies to all of us, not just those groups that professors happen to favor.

    Leftism is incompatible with the idea of equal justice for all. Leftists want the law to discriminate. Contrary to the Bible, leftists want the law to show partiality to the poor. And to the “historically marginalized.” And to sexual deviants. But if you’re on the left’s bad side — if you’re a banker, a straight white male, or (God forbid!) a Republican — the law can treat you as if you have no rights. In the early days in the Soviet Union, there was actually an official category of people designated as “disenfranchised persons”.

    1. ” if you’re a banker, a straight white male, or (God forbid!) a Republican — the law can treat you as if you have no rights. In the early days in the Soviet Union, there was actually an official category of people designated as ‘disenfranchised persons’.”

      Right here in the United States, Republicans have arranged for all sorts of “disenfranchised persons”. Mostly among groups of people who tend to not vote for Republican candidates, coincidentally.

  14. “…creates a campus climate that feels threatening to and isolates students, faculty, and staff of marginalized and historically oppressed populations.”

    A rather rough transition to allegations of racism. They could have hid that among concerns for global warming and oppression of yet-to-arrive illegal immigrants fearing being detained in Iowa…

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