Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Some reasonable free speech guidelines

You have to hand it to McMaster University president Patrick Deane.

Back in the fall, in response to growing attempts to shut down controversial opinions on university campuses across North America, Deane said he planned to establish ground rules that strike a balance between protecting free speech and the right to protest.

The university's recently-released draft guidelines on freedom of expression and dissent bend over backwards to do just that.

The guidelines, Deane says, are not intended to address the contents of a controversial speech but how to manage an event, regardless of the content.

"What I've been trying to achieve with all this is a way of reasserting the functioning ability to hold debates in the university without it becoming a matter largely for the security service," Deane said in an interview.

Under the guidelines, for example, protesters can "spontaneously and temporarily" boo a speaker if the reaction is similar in "kind and degree" to cheers and applause.

On the other hand, chanting, blowing horns or whistles or making other "sustained or repeated noise" is not permitted if it "substantially interferes" with the speaker whether inside or outside the meeting.

You might call the latter the Jordan Peterson rule after the controversial University of Toronto psychology professor who warns against the dangers of "compelled speech" on gender identity issues. Last year Peterson's speech at Mac was disrupted by rowdy protesters clanging cowbells, blowing air horns and chanting obscenities.

According to Deane, it was the Peterson incident that clarified the need for Mac to reassert the fundamental principle of freedom of expression during a time of increasingly polarized opinions and when many are no longer as skilled as people once were at debating and discussing issues.

But Deane also wanted to make it crystal clear that just as there's a right to free speech, "there is right to speak against what is said and the right to protest."

So, for example, under the guidelines it's permissible for protesters to display signs, make gestures and stand up — as long as it doesn't interfere with the audience's view or ability to pay attention to the speaker. Prolonged behaviour likely to block the view of anyone in the audience should be confined to the back of the room.

The document lists several examples of "unacceptable behaviour" that promotes or incites harassment, intimidation, discrimination, violence or hate.

The guidelines, developed by Deane and his office staff, were released in tandem with a committee report spelling out Mac's "unequivocal commitment to freedom of expression" within legal parameters.



Anonymous said...

Such rules of behavior were ounce understood to be always in effect.

ScienceABC123 said...

I have a different suggestion... All speakers are welcome. Those who want to attend and listen are free to do so. Those who don't agree with the speaker are free to not attend or leave without disrupting the speaker. No one is forced to attend, nor does anyone have the right to a "heckler's veto."

Bird of Paradise said...

When i went to grammer school kids who talked too much during study period had tape put on their mouths maybe we should try that with those idiots who try to shout down conservative speakers unless liberal liberal agrees on Free Speech other then their own

Dean said...

A crack is beginning to form in the liberal efforts to destroy our First Amendment rights to free speech. This the second (or third?) college president to demand equal rights of expression for all on his campus.

Congratulations to him and those who follow his lead.

Bill R. said...

Someone's right to free speech ends at my right to listen to a speaker with another point of view. They are free to rebut that point of view AFTER I am finished listening to the first speaker. Just as I am free to listen to or ignore him or her.

Anonymous said...

Anyone listening to what the protestors said at the last few protests should be aware that they have no intention of letting any voice but their own be heard. They are not going to follow these guidelines.

Anonymous said...

And it is always the Liberals who refuse to let a Conservative talk just because they do not agree. Yet Liberals call Conservatives Nazis.