New Speech Code—Same as the Old
February 9, 2005
by David French
The new speech code calls on the government to “develop clear policies restricting any behavior which demeans or reduces an individual based on group affiliation or personal characteristics.”
The old speech code calls on the government to prohibit “oral or printed” words “which tend to expose a person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, to degrade or disgrace him in society.”
If you think you can guess the authors of both speech codes, you might be surprised. The identity of the authors of the “new” code is no surprise: the Faculty Senate of the University of Alabama. The authors of the old code may surprise you. They are segregationist state legislators from the State of Mississippi.
In an important article, dissenting Alabama professors (and FIRE friends) David Beito and Charles Nuckolls demonstrate that—when it comes to censorship—there truly is nothing new under the sun. The identities and motives of the censors may change, but the blunt instruments do not: Beito and Nuckolls state the case eloquently:
Despite their differences, however, these two groups [the liberal Alabama Faculty Senate and the Mississippi segregationists] had more in common than each would probably like to admit. Both agreed that third parties should have the right to trump the free speech of individuals for a greater “public” purpose. Both proposed resolutions to create a vaguely defined category of prohibited speech that included the sweeping offense of “demeaning” or “degrading” others. Each of their proposals stipulated that the definition and enforcement of this restricted speech would be entrusted to third parties (university administrators, politicians or judges). The sponsors of the Alabama resolution, like their segregationist predecessors in Mississippi, showed a low regard for first amendment rights or appreciation for the free marketplace of ideas as a bulwark of American liberty.
Let’s hope the Faculty Senate is listening, and they choose to repeal their totalitarian resolution.