“Humans are not smart enough to have ideas that go beyond challenge and debate”
From the assent of Eleventh Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus to Speech First, Inc. v. Cartwright:
I fully agree with Justice Newsom for this Court. The University of Central Florida’s discriminatory harassment policy almost surely violates the First Amendment. It’s terribly overbroad and it’s a restriction on freedom of expression based on content and point of view.
I write separately to underscore the grave peril posed by a policy that effectively controls adherence to intellectual dogma. History provides us with many warnings of times and places where colleges and universities ceased to seek truth and instead became cathedrals for the worship of certain dogmas.
By depriving itself of academic institutions that prioritize truth over all other concerns, a society risks falling into the abyss of ignorance. Humans aren’t smart enough to come up with ideas beyond challenge and debate. A discriminatory harassment policy that assumes that the most popular idea or the idea that “interferes with, limits, deprives or least alters the terms or conditions of education” is the right one is clearly at odds with the first amendment and our notion of free. speech.
It is in an academic setting, perhaps above all others, that our founding ideas must be subjected to examination and re-examination. The process is not necessarily gentle or even cordial, but it cannot be interrupted because sometimes it is unpleasant or provocative or infuriating. “Education should not be meant to put people at ease, it is meant to make them think. Universities should be meant to provide the conditions in which careful thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment and questioning of tenacious assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.” Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression, Univ. of Chicago (2015) (quoting President Hanna Holborn Gray).
The University’s policy on discriminatory harassment touches on every conceivable subject that can arise on a university campus. Religion, political affiliation, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender identity or expression, and genetic information are just some of the topics targeted by the policy. The specter of punishment for expressing unorthodox views on these topics stifles rigorous intellectual debate. And the evil is not limited to professors and students when they are on campus. Our future civic and scientific leaders will surely take these values with them after graduation.
A university that has placed the utmost importance on the protection of feelings or a safe intellectual space has abandoned its main mission. Protecting feelings or creating a safe space might rightly be the primary focus in some settings, like at a family dinner, but that’s not fair to a college. Its unequivocal mission must remain the pursuit of truth. John Stuart Mill put it best in his classic work, on freedom:
The particular evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it robs the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who oppose the opinion even more than those who support it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the possibility of exchanging error for truth; if they err, they lose, and almost as great an advantage, the clearer perception and more vivid impression of truth produced by its collision with error.
A university that turns itself into an asylum from controversy has ceased to be a university; it has just become an asylum.