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Thursday, December 14, 2023

The House of Representatives is in Camp Two

The House on Wednesday passed a non-binding resolution condemning the rise of antisemitism on campuses and condemning Gay, Kornbluth, and Magill for failing "to clearly state that calls for the genocide of Jews constitute harassment and violate their institutions' codes of conduct." It includes the finding that "acts of hate, intimidation, discrimination, and violence-based on ethnicity or religion have no place in our country or in the global community." (Sounds pretty woke for a Republican-drafted proposition). One hundred twenty-five Democrats and one Republican voted against. Recall the old saying about anything that passes with bipartisan support.

The resolution reflects the Camp Two position--antisemitic speech (at least "genocidal" antisemitic speech, whatever that means and however one can tell) is never protected on college campuses. This position belies Stefanik's WSJ op-ed (unpaywalled) centering her criticism on the inconsistent treatment. But that was never her real point, as suggested in her actual questions and the way the rest of the hearing veered into standard conservative attacks on higher ed. This position also presents problems for Camp Three folks who share Camp One's free-speech commitments; as Popehat warned, bad things happen when you support Stefanik's bad-faith efforts at anything.

I have criticized FIRE a lot for its reaction to this dust-up and other stuff. But its (ultimately unsuccessful) statement urging the House to reject the resolution nails the point:

Condemning Presidents Magill, Gay, and Kornbluth for standing for free expression sends exactly the wrong message. FIRE knows all too well that colleges and universities — including Harvard, Penn, and MIT — have a checkered history in defending free expression. But instead of citing past hypocrisy to demand more censorship, Congress should hold these institutions to their newly found free speech promises.

FIRE also hits an additional important point:  "In fact, both sides of the Israel-Gaza conflict have accused each other of genocide." Too many people, especially Jewish groups urging universities to crack down on antisemitism, have ignored this point. If anything arguably reflecting a call for genocide is unprotected, then universities must target and sanction anti-Israel speech ("River to the Sea") and pro-Israel speech ("Stop Hamas"). As ever, empowering the government to censor eventually comes around to speech you like or requires government to draw impossible lines.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 14, 2023 at 10:19 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink


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