You really can’t make this stuff up. A student group at Emory University Law School dedicated to the protection of free speech has been denied recognition because it could lead to … free speech.
The Emory Law Student Bar Association (SBA) ruled that the free speech discussion group “will likely give rise to a precarious environment – one where the conversation might very easily devolve.”
Why such pessimism about one’s fellow law students? Might these discussions also evolve into a healthy environment? Or might they both evolve and devolve in the same conversation, presenting actual choices for law students to think about? One is tempted to send Emory’s SBA on a field trip to the BBC headquarters in London, where a statue of George Orwell is attended by a quote carved in stone: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
We owe it to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for reporting and challenging the denial of the Emory Free Speech Forum’s application for a charter. As FIRE points out, this denial has real-world consequences. Any student group needs such recognition to reserve rooms in the university, ask for funding from the Emory Student Bar Association, and operate on campus.
Throughout the academy, we see a desire to squelch speech out of the fear that someone might say something reprehensible. Make no mistake, free speech can sometimes include the truly reprehensible, for which there can be consequences, from social ostracism, to a visit with the dean, to outright expulsion. But democracy cannot allow the fear that someone, somewhere, might say something wrong-headed to shut down all free inquiry.
Such truths used to be almost universally shared as a basic American value. That this seems not to be understood by many in our universities may point to a need for better instruction earlier in life – to instruct high school students once again in what used to be called “civics.”