Free Speech for Me – But Not for Thee

Nat Hentoff wrote a nice book in 1992; Free Speech for Me–But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other. It was about those from the right and the left who would suppress the rights of individuals to voice opposing viewpoints.

Hentoff bio.jpg

Hentoff deals with traditional censors–religious fundamentalists and political right-wingers–but does not neglect the new ones, e.g. feminists who tried to prevent a pro-life women’s group from participating in Yale University’s Women’s Center.

Hentoff discusses everything from college campuses preventing non-politically correct subjects from being discussed to censorship he faced while writing his columns. Then there were hate-speech ordinances, speech codes on campus, flag-burning amendments to the Constitution, and feminist-Moral Majority coalitions to ban pornography.

A group of librarians in New York suggested that the following label be put on particular books in school libraries, as needed: “WARNING: It has been determined that these materials are sex-stereotyped and may limit your sense of freedom and choice”.

He especially criticizes “civil libertarians” who use the First Amendment as protection of things they like and then ignore it when trying to ban what they hate (racist writing, sexual harassment, etc.). Voltaire would be turning in his grave.

Rather than set up left-wing straw men to knock down, Hentoff details stories of how the Left censors, while acknowledging that the Right censors. Since conservatives admit their intentions, they are not as dangerous as the duplicitous people on the Left.

Free speech has been on balance an ally of those seeking change. Change in any complex system ultimately depends on the ability of outsiders to challenge accepted views and reigning institutions. Without a strong guarantee of freedom of speech, there is no effective right to challenge the status quo.

British Columbia has an extremely broad hate speech law that prohibits the publication of any statement that “indicates” discrimination or is “likely” to expose a person or group or class of persons to hatred or contempt.

Professor Sunera Thobani of the University of British Columbia faced a hate crimes investigation after she delivered a vicious diatribe against American foreign policy. Thobani, a Marxist feminist and multiculturalist activist, remarked that Americans are “bloodthirsty, vengeful and calling for blood”.

The Canadian hate-crimes law was created to protect minority groups from hate speech. But in this case, it was invoked to protect Americans. Priceless.


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