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Free speech controversy

The University of Houston is apparently going to disregard a court order that allowed an anti-abortion group to display large photos of dead fetuses in the heavily trafficked Butler Plaza area.

U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. ruled last week that UH must allow the student group Pro-Life Cougars to put up the controversial display this fall in the heavily trafficked Butler Plaza, near UH’s Hoffman Hall and M.D. Anderson Library. The judge concluded that UH violated the group’s First Amendment rights to free speech and 14th Amendment rights to equal protection last October by not permitting the display in the plaza.

UH spokesman Mike Cinelli said Werlein’s order is moot because it only applies to a previous university policy on regulating speech. He said a new policy enacted Tuesday will allow UH to restrict the proposed display to one of four so-called “free speech zones” in less visible areas of campus.

“This whole issue is really a case about where free speech will occur as opposed to the ability to express free speech,” Cinelli said.

I’m as pro-choice as the next guy, but I think the Pro-Life Cougars are being shafted. As long as they are not aggressively confronting passersby, UH’s attempt to restrict them to a more remote area of campus is a restriction on legitimate speech.

The same exhibit was allowed on Butler Plaza in March 2001, leading to student protests and partly causing UH to form a committee that summer to re-evaluate its free speech policy, Cinelli said.

The exhibit also caused the University of Texas and Baylor University to re-examine their free speech policies after controversies erupted in those universities last year.

What these schools should have decided about their free-speech policies is that, y’know, free speech is a Good Thing, and that the protests against this exhibit are a demonstration of how it should work. I’ll quote Penn Jillette again: “The cure for bad speech isn’t no speech, it’s more speech.” Isn’t college supposed to be a place where people encounter ideas that maybe they don’t like? How can you argue against someone’s position on an issue if you don’t know the details of that position?

Owen links to this article about a backlash against these so-called “free speech zones” on campuses. I wish them well.

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One Comment

  1. Sami says:

    Mr. Kuff-
    I am a senior at Seymour High School in Seymour, TN. I am writing a research paper on censorship in public schools and your opinions are very insightful. My paper has but one flaw-I one have one solid example of censorship and that is the Oak Ridge High School newspaper fiasco. Are you familiar with it? In a nutshell, the issue was an article about pregnancy and the principal jerked the paper after publication. I would really appreciate your advice on this topic and some input you may have towards my paper because I am at a dead end towards this argumentative research paper. Thank you very much for your time. ~Sami Norwood