Posted by Professor Dayo Abah
I have just found out today about the Speaking Freely website and I am glad I did. I am particularly glad that efforts are being made to promote the website. I read some of the comments on the website and I was surprised at the level of misunderstanding of what Brian said in his statement. This is not in defense of the students authors of "List" and the "Bracket." This is a thought to ponder on a speaking freely website. What the authors of the bracket practiced cannot be defended as journalism but it was speech. It was harmful speech by members of our community. Anger, outrage and community condemnation of their speech are all appropriate responses. It is also an opportunity for a discussion about our community values and institutional culture that allow such speech to fester. What is not appropriate is a closed hearing in which the accused is not allowed to face the accuser. It is inappropriate, not because it is closed (that might be necessary to protect both accused and accuser), but because the accused may not be allowed to face the accuser. Closed hearings with phantom accusers is not the appropriate remedy for bad speech. There is no absolute freedom, however, we have to be careful not to sacrifice freedom for civility. To paraphrase Justice Brandeis, believing in the power of reason as applied through public discourse (as represented by this website and other forums that have tackled the issue) we should eschew silence coerced by law or by fear of punishment for its infraction. "The path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and propose remedies; the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones....The remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence" (Justice Louis Brandeis, 1927). Hate speech, as abhorrent as it is, is an opportunity for more good speech and education. If a crime has been committed, it is not only fair, but might even be therapeutic for the accuser to face the accused.