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Free Speech/First Amendment



All Reason.com articles with the "Free Speech/First Amendment" tag.



Published: Sat, 23 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2017 11:15:54 -0400

 



Feminist Group Loses Fight to Declare Yik Yak App a Civil-Rights Violation

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 15:30:00 -0400

A federal court in Virginia shot down one of the sadder displays of anti-speech authoritarianism in recent memory, a demand that the social-media app Yik Yak be declared a civil-rights violation on college campuses. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia this week dismissed a lawsuit filed against the University of Mary Washington (UMW) by a coalition led by the Feminist Majority Foundation. The suit contended that UMW allowing Yik Yak on campus constituted a violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which prevents sex discrimination at educational institutions receive federal funding. "As social media has proliferated, cyberbullying has become a national problem," and "solutions are not easy or obvious to anyone," the court noted. "In seeking solutions, however, schools cannot ignore other rights vital to this country, such as the right to free speech." The whole debacle stems from Yik Yak users at UMW harassing members of a campus feminist group (and branch of the Feminist Majority Foundation) in 2015. Yik Yak is now defunct, but at the time it was a popular app on college campuses, allowing users within a certain distance to broadcast their thoughts anonymously in a Twitter-like fashion. The students complained to UMW administrators, who told them they could not ban the app on campus because of free-speech concerns. That's when Feminist Majority Foundation and others asked the Department of Education to intervene. In an administrative complaint against UMW, the groups charged colleges with violating students' civil rights "by failing to adequately address the sexually hostile environment created by persistent online harassment and threats" on Yik Yak—a private platform students could download independently on their own phones or devices. Schools exerted no control over who downloaded the app or what they posted on it. The feminist groups proposed schools get around this by installing software that would block Yik Yak on school computer networks, a "solution" that would both fail on technological grounds (anyone using their phone's network or non-school wifi could still access the app) and First Amendment ones. Feminist Majority Foundation also filed a civil lawsuit against the school, alleging violations of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. On Tuesday, the court explained its reasons for granting its motion to dismiss the suit. "To establish a Title IX claim, a plaintiff must show that a [school] acted with deliberate indifference to known acts of sexual harassment so severe, pervasive, and offensive that the harassment deprived the plaintiff of access to educational opportunities or benefits," explains the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia decision. It's a standard that focuses on action or inaction by the school, not third parties, and is limited to situations in which the school has substantial jurisdiction "over both the harasser and the context in which the known harassment occurs." In this case, "the Title IX discrimination claim fails because the harassment took place in a context over which UMW had limited, if any, control—anonymous postings on Yik Yak," the court decided. And in realms where it did have control—like holding student assemblies and having a university police officer investigate a specific threat—it took swift action. "While UMW did not take the specific action requested by the plaintiffs, Title IX does not require funding recipients to meet the particular remedial demands of its students," especially when those demands may expose a school to liability under the First Amendment," the court ruled. It also noted that some of the campus feminists members received individual threats of physical and sexual violence, calling them out by name and revealing their addresses. In some cases, legitimate criminal charges may have been warranted. But instead of going after harassers directly, the aggrieved students and Feminist Majority Foundation lashed out at the school and the social-media platform. While condemning the "thuggery" of studen[...]



Free Speech Activists Brawl with Supporters of Turkish President Erdoğan

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 16:00:00 -0400

NEW YORK — Fist fights broke out between opponents and supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, where Erdoğan addressed a reception in his honor. Erdoğan carried on with a speech condemning terrorists and other enemies of Turkey, and calling for Muslim unity, the crowd erupting with each disruption, his supporters cursing at the protesters or attempting to drown them out shouting Turkish nationalist slogans. A small crowd of demonstrators on Wednesday outside the United Nations building protested the Turkish leader's address at the annual U.N. General Debate, in which world leaders gather in Manhattan to discuss issues of international importance. The protests, however, were peaceful. Erdoğan's speech to the U.N. touched on the PKK alongside ISIS, praising Turkey's "intensive fight against the bloody terrorist organizations in the region." Additionally, he called for an increase in aid for Syrian and Iraqi refugees living in Turkey, and denounced a referendum on secession planned by Iraqi Kurds for September 25. Thursday's clash is the third time in two years a visit to the U.S. by the leader of the Republic of Turkey, was marred by violence. It was unclear as of this writing whether anyone was injured or arrested. The hosts, the Turkish American National Steering Committee (TASC), describes itself as "a District of Columbia non-profit organization that helps coordinate the efforts of the nation's leading Turkish American organizations." Its website features quotes from historians criticizing the use of the term "genocide" for the massacre of Armenians and Syriacs during World War I. A crowd of American admirers carrying Turkish and American flags greeted the polarizing Erdoğan, who had come to the Broadway Ballroom to talk about human rights around the world. The crowd included nervous-looking officials in suits with Turkish flag pins as well as New York Police Department (NYPD) and Secret Service officers. As he entered, Erdoğan was welcomed with chants in Turkish, as well as the religious phrases "in the name of God" and "God is great" in Arabic. A speaker from TASC mentioned several nationalities in the audience, and an introductory video lauded Turkey's humanitarian efforts in Burma and Syria. src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fmatthew.petti%2Fvideos%2F2031853543767068%2F&show_text=0&width=267" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="267" height="476" frameborder="0"> Muhammad, a Bengali-American New Yorker, excitedly called Erdoğan the "true Sultan of the Muslim community," declaring that the Turkish president is the only world leader to speak about the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in the southeast Asian nation of Burma, and that people of many nationalities came with him to see the speech. In his speech, the Turkish president singled out ISIS, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Gülen movement as "terrorists." "Although the left-wing SDF fights alongside US special forces against ISIS, Turkey considers it an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which both the US and Turkey classify as a terrorist group. An angry man pushed over Meghan Bodette, yanking the flag of the SDF women's unit from her hand before security rushed to restrain him. Nearby, another man shouted misogynistic slurs at her. "They barely touched me," Bodette, an organizer for the North American Kurdish Alliance, tells me. Hotel security escorted the protesters out, but were often unable to stop brawls from erupting. Often the Turkish president's supporters had already begun beating the demonstrators before security arrived, forcing them to wade through a thick crowd to find the source of the commotion. Afterwards, N.Y.P.D. officers patrolled the hallways. Hotel security glanced around nervously, unable to distinguish which shouts in Turkish were outpourings of support and which were attempts to disrupt. Indeed, the size and volume of the crowd made it difficult for even a Turkish spe[...]



D.C. Threatens to Punish Manufacturers for Failing 'Flushability' Standards It Won't Define

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 11:25:00 -0400

To flush or not to flush? The Kimberly-Clark Corporation is suing D.C. over the question, after a law the city passed last year tried to keep the company from labeling its disposable wipes "flushable." The whole matter might seem a little silly for those outside the septic or paper product industries. But it provides a perfect case study in arbitrary regulation and government incompetence. Under the Nonwoven Disposable Products Act of 2016, passed last December, disposable paper products such as cleansing wipes are forbidden from being labeled as flushable "unless there is competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate that the non-woven disposable product is flushable sewer safe, and septic safe." Products that don't meet this standard must be labeled with "Do Not Flush." Come January 1, 2018, manufacturers of everything from facial tissues to paper towels could face civic penalties and fines for failure to meet the new labeling requirements. Yet the city has offered no guidance on what counts as "competent and reliable scientific evidence" of flushability, nor information on how the city will test suspicious paper products. And repeated requests by Kimberly-Clark for more information went unanswered. At hearings about the rule, experts for the city suggested that no disposable cleansing wipe currently on the market was fit to be flushed, and that even some toilet paper wasn't flushable. This puts companies like Kimberly-Clark—a major manufacturer of personal care products (including several lines of cleansing wipes that can supposedly be flushed without clogging toilets and pipes)—in a bind. They have no way to determine how to ensure their products will meet D.C.'s standard. But if they fail to follow these unknowable rules, D.C. can punish them. In a lawsuit filed September 15 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Kimberly-Clark contends that the law is unconstitutional for a host of reasons, including its failure to set clear standards for avoiding sanctions. The suit also argues that D.C. is violating Kimberly-Clark's First Amendment rights by forcing the company to make untrue statements about its products and that it impermissably seeks to hold Kimberly-Clark "vicariously liable for the actions of others, namely the unaffiliated businesses that buy Kimberly-Clark's flushable wipes elsewhere in the United States and then—lawfully—choose to resell them to local consumers." And then there is the question of the Constitution's Commerce Clause, which grants Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. Kimberly-Clark products are made in South Carolina, where labeling the wipes as flushable is legal. Thus, the suit argues, D.C.'s flushable-product policy "invalidly seeks to regulate the conduct of manufacturers in other states by imposing civil sanctions on conduct that is entirely lawful" there. Meanwhile, the act entirely fails to regulate any local activity: It remains lawful under the Act for retailers to buy wipes labeled as flushable and to resell those products to consumers in D.C., regardless of whether that labeling is deemed consistent with the Act. Likewise, it remains lawful for D.C. consumers to purchase and use those very same products, no matter how they are labeled. But it is the manufacturers who exclusively bear liability for this activity, as the only thing regulated by the Act is non-local manufacturing and labeling activity. Thus, whether construed as a per se invalid regulation of out-of-state commercial conduct or as a regulation that inordinately burdens interstate commerce, the Act violates the Commerce Clause. According to a company statement, Kimberly-Clark wipes "are engineered to rapidly lose strength as soon as they are flushed" and "meet or exceed widely accepted industry guidelines for flushability." In the "largest sewer collection study, conducted in New York City in 2016, not a single Kimberly-Clark flushable wipe was found," it notes. A Federal Trade Commission investigation agreed [...]



Brickbat: Constitutional Scholar

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) "There is a fine line between freedom of speech and hate speech," said Lori Stettler, vice chancellor of student affairs at Southern Illinois University. "Once that line is crossed, there is zero tolerance." Stettler tells the student newspaper that any student taking part in a hateful demonstration will face disciplinary action.




More Than a Third of Americans Have No Idea What the First Amendment Says

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 12:44:00 -0400

This morning, my colleague Robby Soave shared the troubling finding that 44 percent of students at four-year universities wrongly believe that the Constitution doesn't protect hate speech. I have some more bad news: Ignorance about our foundational liberties does not stop at the college campus' edge.

When pollsters from the Annenberg Public Policy Center asked what rights the First Amendment protects, fewer than half of American adults (48 percent) were able to conjure the words "freedom of speech"—and that was the most popular answer. Just 15 percent came up with "freedom of religion." Nintey-seven out of 100 did not remember that petitioning the government is covered.

Overall, more than a third (37 percent) said they didn't know or couldn't name any rights protected by the First Amendment.

(image)

The survey was conducted in mid-August and released last week to commemorate the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, which was Sunday.

Beyond the less-than-confidence-inspiring responses to the query about the First Amendment, the poll also found that a third of Americans could not name any of the three branches of government, and that one in five did not realize atheists have the same constitutional rights as other Americans.

You might also enjoy this video:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/i_4-BqSIUD8" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">




Study: 44% of Students Incorrectly Think the First Amendment Does Not Protect Hate Speech

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 09:10:00 -0400

(image) It is not just a matter of wanting authority figures to prohibit other people from engaging in offensive speech: A near-majority of surveyed college students think hate speech is already outside the bounds of legal protection.

A new study conducted by the Brookings Institution's John Villasenor, a professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, asked 1,500 students at four-year universities about their views on the free speech, and the results are unsettling.

The greatest number, 44 percent answered "no" when asked if the First Amendment protects hate speech. Just 39 percent of students answered correctly and 16 percent answered "don't know."

Men were more likely than women to say hate speech was protected (51 percent vs. 31 percent.) And while conservative students are often thought to be more in favor of free speech than their liberal counterparts—at least in the present campus censorship wars—the study suggests this reputation is undeserved. Just 44 percent of self-identified Republicans said that hate speech was protected by the First Amendment, compared with 39 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of independents.

A striking majority of surveyed students—51 percent—thought "shouting so that the audience cannot hear" was a valid tactic for opposing a controversial speaker. Violence was acceptable to 19 percent of respondents.

"Across most categories, and in the aggregate, the majority of students appear to prefer an environment in which their institution is expected to create an environment that shelters them from offensive views," wrote Villasenor. "The exceptions are among Republicans and Independents, though even in those categories nearly half of the students still expressed a preference for the more sheltered environment."

It's not just a matter of preference, however. Given that a majority of students incorrectly say the First Amendment doesn't protect hate speech, or that they don't know whether it does, we must also consider sheer ignorance as an explanation for the waves of student-led shut downs on American campuses in recent years.

Teenagers are somehow making it through 12 years of primary education without absorbing the most basic civics lesson: The founding documents of the United States of America zealously protect people who make offensive statements from censorship at the hands of government officials or violent mobs.




Dick Pic Makes Teenager Guilty of Sexually Exploiting Himself, High Court Says

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 09:15:00 -0400

When Eric Gray was 17, he took a picture of his penis and texted it to a 22-year-old woman he fancied, asking, "Do u like it babe?" Gray, whose lack of social skills had led to a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, may have thought he was courting the woman. She thought he was harassing her and contacted police, who thought he was distributing child pornography. Last week, the Washington Supreme Court upheld Gray's conviction on that charge, which makes him a perpetrator as well as a victim, guilty of exploiting himself. Although Gray's dick pic was unwelcome, this ruling implies that teenagers who engage in consensual sexting are committing felony sex crimes. Writing for the majority, Justice Susan Owens concludes that Gray's behavior fits the plain meaning of Washington's statute, which says "a person" is guilty of a Class B felony when he "knowingly develops, duplicates, publishes, prints, disseminates, exchanges, finances, attempts to finance, or sells a visual or printed matter that depicts a minor engaged in an act of sexually explicit conduct." The law does not say the "person" and the "minor" have to be different people. "On its face," Owens writes, "this prohibition extends to any person who disseminates an image of any minor, even if the minor is disseminating a self-produced image. Because the statute is unambiguous, we take it on its face and find that Gray's actions are included under the statute." Owens concedes that the law "was undoubtedly intended to address the sexual abuse and exploitation of children by adults." But she says its terms go further. "The legislature intended to destroy the blight of child pornography everywhere, from production of the images to commercial gain," she writes. "Because the statute was intended to curtail production of child pornography at all levels in the distribution chain, the statute prohibits Gray's actions." And since the First Amendment does not apply to child pornography, Owens says, the statute does not violate Gray's right to freedom of speech. Owens seems untroubled by the fact that the same reasoning would make child pornographers out of teenagers who exchange sexy selfies, who face such charges from time to time. "We understand the concern over teenagers being prosecuted for consensually sending sexually explicit pictures to each other," she writes. "We also understand the worry caused by a well-meaning law failing to adapt to changing technology. But our duty is to interpret the law as written and, if unambiguous, apply its plain meaning to the facts before us. Gray's actions fall within the statute's plain meaning. Because he was not a minor sending sexually explicit images to another consenting minor, we decline to analyze such a situation." As dissenting Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud points out, declining to consider that scenario does not save sexting teenagers from the logic of this decision. Their actions, like Gray's, fit the literal meaning of the law. McCloud argues that the majority's interpretation gives short shrift to the legislature's intent and leads to "absurd results." According to the legislative findings at the beginning of the chapter under which Gray was convicted, "the state has a compelling interest in protecting children from those who sexually exploit them." The findings say the goal of the law is "the protection of children from sexual exploitation" and "the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse of children." The chapter is accordingly titled "Sexual Exploitation of Children." It makes little sense to say that a teenager who takes a picture of his own private parts is abusing or exploiting children. "The general rule is that a statute designed for the protection of a particular class is presumed to exempt that protected class from criminal liability for their own harm," McCloud writes. She cites the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the Mann Act, which applies to "[...]



Bikini Barista Lawsuit Defends Freedom to Espresso Oneself

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Earlier this week, a group of eight women who work in the coffee industry sued the city of Everett, Wash. in federal court. The plaintiffs allege a pair of new Everett laws are unconstitutionally vague and infringe on the plaintiffs' freedom of expression; right to privacy, personal autonomy, and liberty; and substantive due-process rights. The laws, adopted last month and implemented this month, are intended to crack down on the so-called "bikini barista" phenomenon that's popular in Western Washington State. The lawsuit defines the business model as centering on baristas who "wear bikinis while serving coffee to customers in their cars through a drive-through window." The Stranger, a free Seattle weekly, defines it similarly as "the Pacific Northwest custom of wearing a bikini while working at a commercial coffee business." The first law "prohibits women from exposing 'more than one-half of the part of the female breast located below the top of the areola'" or anyone from showing the "bottom one-half of the anal cleft.'" Under the law, women in particular could be subject to intrusive and demeaning bodily inspections. Those who are found to be in violation of the law face stiff fines and up to one year in jail. The second law specifically targets bikini barista stands. It requires drive-thru espresso baristas—all of Everett's bikini baristas are women—"to cover completely their upper and lower body, including the pectorals, stomach, back below the shoulder blades, and the 'top three inches of legs below the buttocks.'" These laws are patently dumb, moralistic, and theocratic in nature. As the lawsuit also alleges, they're also unconstitutional. In order to learn more, I drove up from my home in Seattle earlier this week and visited one of the city's bikini espresso joints (with my friend's 70-year-old mom, to boot). It would be my first trip to one of the establishments. My first stop, though, was at a fully clad espresso stand on the city's south side. The barista there, a woman, said she had no opinion on the lawsuit, but told me nevertheless that she thought baristas should be free to wear whatever they want at work. I then drove across the street to Hillbilly Hotties, one of the city's bikini espresso stands. The barista there, wearing a Santa Claus themed bikini—complete with matching Santa hat—told me she didn't want to comment on the suit. But she gave me the phone number of Jovanna Edge, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and owner of Hillbilly Hotties and other bikini espresso stands. I spoke with Edge on Wednesday. Edge, who describes herself as "very conservative," tells me she and her co-plaintiffs filed suit because the city "enacted this dress code that was obviously against our First and Fourteen Amendment rights, and we shouldn't have to abide by their morals and values. They shouldn't be able to infringe upon everybody else's beliefs." She told me she was shocked by the city law. "I can't believe this actually passed," Edge said. "I never thought it would." Shocking, too, is some of the language in the law. For example, I'd never heard the term "anal cleft" until reading about the lawsuit. "I still don't know what that is" Edge tells me. "Our attorneys didn't know what that is. I think it's the part right above your butt crack. But I really don't know." In a somewhat surreal conversation—my columns tend to focus on food law and policy issues like farm subsidies and menu labeling, rather than butt cracks—I came to understand the term is largely synonymous with the colloquial "plumber's butt." I searched but could find no moralistic plans in Everett to crack down on the butt cracks of plumbers in the city. The same goes for Everett's own workers. A city-owned pool's website currently boasts several photos of women in bathing suits. The Facebook page for the city's Parks & Recreation Department, too, featu[...]



The Real Boobs Are People Who Think ESPN Must Fire Jemele Hill

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 17:31:00 -0400

(image) Clay Travis, a sports radio host known for his incendiary right-wing views, believes in only two things, "the First Amendment and boobs." And he said so, loudly and proudly, on Brooke Baldwin's CNN show this afternoon.

His remark came during a heated discussion about the Jemele Hill controversy. Hill, a SportsCenter host and woman of color, called President Trump a white supremacist, drawing the ire of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who branded it a "firing offense." Eventually, Trump himself tweeted that ESPN should "apologize for untruth!"

Sanders doubled down at a Friday press briefing, saying, "ESPN has been hypocritical, they should hold anchors to a fair and consistent standard."

Evidently that was the point Travis was attempting to make during his bizarre rant: since ESPN fired Curt Schilling for making anti-trans bathroom comments, it should be consistent and also discipline Hill.

What this has to do with the female anatomy is anyone's guess, but Travis felt the need to say, "I'm a First Amendment absolutist, I believe in only two things completely, the First Amendment and boobs." This came out of nowhere, unnerving Baldwin and prompting her to end the segment early.

The social media mobs are currently pillorying Travis for his crass comment, and deservedly so. But more people should save some outrage for his actual, substantive remarks, which are wrong.

Travis, Sanders, and Trump all seem to be making the same mistake: the First Amendment does not require ESPN to be politically neutral, or polite, or even-handed. It protects Hill's right to call Trump a white supremacist, and also Travis's right to say "boobs" on television.

It does not protect anyone from whatever social consequences they face. ESPN can punish Schilling for engaging in political speech and reward Hill for doing the same thing. If people don't like this policy, they can turn off SportsCenter. The scary thing would be if the government tried to punish any of the people involved in this strange controversy, which is why it's probably not such a good idea for government mouthpieces to imply a desire to do so.

Otherwise, neither the First Amendment nor boobs are relevant here.




Arpaio Attorney Threatens Harvard Law Prof With Libel Suit Over Op-Ed

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 17:10:00 -0400

(image) When Joe Arpaio reads a column he doesn't like, he doesn't fire off a letter to the editor. Instead, his lawyer threatens to sue the writer. Sheriff Arpaio the bully is Citizen Arpaio the bully.

Is this the further breakdown in understanding of free speech in this country? At the very least it's a sign that the belief in silencing someone's speech with legal threats, however futile, is alive and well.

Mark Goldman, Arpaio's attorney, sent a letter to Andrew Crespo, a Harvard Law professor, reminding him about libel law and requesting he retract a statement he made about Arpaio in an op-ed he wrote for the Boston Globe.

Specifically, Goldman insisted the statement "Arpaio was convicted of violating a court order that directed him to stop arresting Latinos unless he had probable cause that they had committed a crime" was false and misleading.

"Given your legal education, experience and expertise as claimed in your bio at Harvard Law School, you must be aware that your following statement in your Op/Ed is false and misleading," Goldman snarked to Crespo.

In the current fashion, Goldman also asked Crespo in the letter whether his employer had approved the op-ed or been aware it would be published. If so, Goldman asked for the names of those at the school knew of or approved the op-ed.

Snitching to employers has become a popular tool in the tool box of the free speech-hater, be they Twitter trolls or lawyers.

Crespo responded to Goldman, and posted both letters on Lawfare because, he said of the "tendency of late for our political leaders to threaten lawsuits as a way to try to suppress speech that they find critical or unflattering."

He linked to a Columbia Journalism Review article chronicling the numerous incidents in which Trump threatened to sue journalists over the course of the campaign. Read the entire exchange here.

Crespo explained in his letter what he had written about Arpaio was factually true, and noted that even if it weren't, Arpaio is a public figure and "even a statement that is flatly false cannot support a libel claim, absent a showing, as required by the First Amendment, that the allegedly defamatory statement was published "with 'actual malice'."

Given that Goldman is (presumably) an accredited lawyer, he should've known the libel laws don't apply here. Crespo hinted at that, reminding Goldman that if Arpaio were to sue Crespo, the former sheriff "would be liable for a judgment ordering him to compensate [Crespo] financially for any fees or costs that [he] might incur responding" to the lawsuit, since it was "devoid of reasonable factual support or arguable basis in law."

Crespo's op-ed was a suggestion that the judge in Arpaio's case hire a special prosecutor to question the constitutionality of Donald Trump's pardon of Arpaio. The judge is considering it.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post said the judge had already decided to appoint a special prosecutor. I apologize for the error.




How About a Little Free Speech Protection for Unprotected Adjunct Professors?

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 16:00:00 -0400

Kenneth Storey, an adjunct sociology professor at the University of Tampa, was recently fired after he insinuated on Twitter that Hurricane Harvey was "karma" for Texans voting "red" in the last election. After vague "discussions" with Storey—and a fair bit of criticism from the American Association of University Professors—the university technically reinstated him and accepted his resignation. This past spring, Lars Maischak, an adjunct history professor at Fresno State, tweeted, "To save American democracy, Trump must hang. The sooner and the higher, the better," hashtag, "the resistance." Breitbart caught wind of this and made him famous. Maischak won't be teaching this semester, despite the fact that his contract doesn't technically expire until next year. And Kevin Allred, an adjunct at Montclair State in New Jersey, got fired for a tweet several weeks before he even started teaching. When Allred tweeted he wished someone would just shoot Trump, Montclair administrators denied that the school had ever hired Allred. This pattern is playing out again and again as colleges attempt to avoid the backlash from professors getting politically aggressive online. It's a given colleges should be able to fire bad professors and replace them with better ones. But it's often hard to figure out when colleges are firing adjuncts because they're incompetent and unfit, or because they're afraid of bad publicity and student protest. On many campuses, students know they can force administrative action if they stir up enough controversy. They have gotten speakers like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos disinvited and have called for administrators to be fired for questioning the political narratives surrounding sexual assault. Student activists can effectively shut down the speech of professors, who hope to avoid their students' ire (like those at Evergreen State). Adjunct professors have less job security and without tenure are not permanent members of staff. In many states they are employed at-will, which means a public college doesn't need a reason to fire them. When administrators fire professors for distasteful or offensive speech, although they're well within their rights to do so, they create environments where free speech can't thrive. Professors must always wonder whether their controversial ideas cross a line. Colleges should be able to fire their professors (perhaps even those with tenure), but it seems administrators are afraid of the monsters they created—they don't want to be in the forefront of the next national news scandal, and they act accordingly. There is a clear tension for libertarians here. Of course, there will always be a limit to what type of speech is acceptable to society at large—tweets advocating ethnic cleansing or Nazism would most probably probably result in firing. That line isn't quite being crossed by these professors, but they're still experiencing retribution. So far, most of the scandals have involved speech by progressive professors who think Trump should receive the death penalty, or think natural disasters are an act of divine retribution on Republicans. But conservative or libertarian professors could face dismissal for any speech administrators deemed outrageous. The ability of adjunct professors to speak freely matters if you genuinely care about ideological diversity. If a professor wants to make a foolish claim that Texans deserved disaster for their political preferences, other people, students and professors, should be free to counter with fiery and, yes, ridiculous tweets of their own. Rather than fearing and curbing political speech, what if administrators believed more ideas in the marketplace is better than fewer—regardless of ideology?[...]



Video of Dog Giving Nazi Salutes Earns Man Hate Crime Charge

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 13:05:00 -0400

(image) A case out the United Kingdom is a perfect example of why legislation restricting "hate speech" is a terrible idea.

In April 2016, Mark Meecham of Coatbridge, Scotland, posted a YouTube video of his girlfriend's dog Buddha responding to the words "seig heil" by raising his paw in a Nazi salute and responding to the question "Do you want to gas the Jews?" by jumping to attention. According to Meecham, the video was intended to prank his partner's overdone admiration for her admittedly adorable pet.

"My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is. And so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi," he says at the beginning of the video, titled M8 Yer Dugs A Nazi.

Meecham's video quickly went viral, racking up some three million views and sparking reactions of both amusement and offense. Then police showed up at his door and arrested him for a hate crime.

Specifically, Meecham was charged with violating Section 127 of the U.K.'s Communications Act, which prohibits electronic communications that are "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character." If convicted, could face up to six months in prison and fines of up to £5,000. His trial is ongoing.

Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, testified as a witness for the prosecution at Meecham's trial, saying: "My immediate reaction is that there is a clear distinction to be made between an offhand remark and the amount of effort that is required to train a dog like that. I actually feel sorry for the dog." He added that "material of this kind goes to normalize the anti-Semitic views that frankly we thought we had seen the last of."

The Washington Post was quick to play up that angle, quoting at length from a Fairfield University professor speculating that satirizing Nazis somehow normalizes and emboldens those who hold anti-Semitic views. (Are there really a lot of otherwise neutral YouTube watchers who'll be radicalized by seeing a pug giving Nazi salutes?)

In a follow-up clip, Meecham strenuously denied his video was an endorsement of Nazism. But his intent is beside the point. The man faces jail time for making a dumb YouTube video. Be glad we have a First Amendment here in the U.S.




If Democracy Is Doomed, Don’t Blame the Russians

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 00:01:00 -0400

A week before Hillary Clinton published her campaign memoir, Facebook seemed to validate her complaint that Vladimir Putin helped Donald Trump defeat her. But the social media platform's announcement about suspicious online political ads also highlighted common misconceptions about the nature of Russian attempts to influence the presidential election. We often hear that Russia "hacked the election," "attacked our democracy," or "undermined the integrity of our electoral process." Yet so far all the anti-Clinton efforts blamed on Russia amount to attempts at persuasion, as opposed to interference in the casting and counting of votes. Our democracy probably can survive a few more voices in the cacophony of competing claims, especially if we cultivate habits of skepticism and critical thinking. Facebook said it had identified about 3,000 political ads purchased by 470 or so "inauthentic accounts" that "likely operated out of Russia" between June 2015 and May 2017. The $100,000 spent on those ads was not even a drop in the bucket of Facebook's ad revenue, which totaled $27 billion last year. Russian propaganda did not represent a significant share of political discussion on Facebook either. In a report published last April, Facebook estimated that "information operations," defined as "actions taken by governments or organized non-state actors to distort domestic or foreign political sentiment," accounted for "less than one-tenth of a percent of the total reach of civic content" during last year's presidential campaign. Facebook has not released examples of the fishy ads, but it said "the vast majority…didn't specifically reference the US presidential election, voting or a particular candidate." Rather, "the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum—touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights." Fake accounts—opened by Russians pretending to be Americans, say—violate Facebook's terms of service. But foreign-sponsored online issue ads are permitted by U.S. campaign finance laws, provided they do not explicitly advocate a candidate's election or defeat. Not that Russian operatives are necessarily careful to obey U.S. law. Last year's hacking of embarrassing emails from the Democratic National Committee and from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, for instance, was clearly illegal (and rightly so). Those hacks nevertheless generated newsworthy and arguably relevant information, as unauthorized leaks often do. Clinton was not happy about the resulting news coverage, but that was precisely because she believed it would interest voters. Although Democrats suffered, it is not at all clear that democracy did. In the end, voters had to decide for themselves whether it mattered that officials at the supposedly neutral DNC plotted to undermine Bernie Sanders, Clinton's rival for the Democratic nomination. They had to assess the significance of excerpts from Clinton's secret Wall Street speeches and a CNN contributor's tips to her campaign about debate questions. Facebook users likewise were free to accept or reject the "divisive social and political messages" sent by online ads, regardless of who sponsored them. A speaker's nationality or motivation is logically irrelevant to the merits of what he has to say. That remains true when what he has to say is verifiably false. In a presidential race where both major-party candidates had trouble with the truth, the fact that their supporters also trafficked in lies did not create a novel challenge for voters, even when those supporters were not Americans or were employed by a foreign government. Facebook describes the ads placed by "inauthentic acc[...]



Bikini Baristas Sue City in the Name of Free Speech and Women's Rights

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 14:20:00 -0400

Bikini baristas in Washington state are suing a city over its ban on serving "quick service" food and drinks with bare shoulders, midriffs, or upper thighs. On Monday, a group of seven baristas and one coffee stand owner filed a federal lawsuit alleging a violation of their rights to free expression, privacy, due process, and equal protection. "This is about women's rights," barista Natalie Bjerk told the Seattle Times. She's right. The City of Everett isn't claiming that the regulations serve any food safety or public health purposes. According to Assistant City Attorney Ramsey Ramerman, the point of the dress code is to prevent unethical coffee stand owners from pressuring employees into showing too much skin, and to keep baristas from giving customers a peep show for extra cash. Under a pair of August ordinances, employees at food trucks, drive-up coffee stands, and similar establishments are banned from being in bikinis, shorts, sheer clothing, or any other outfit that shows bare stomachs, shoulders, breasts, lower backs, or pubic areas, or the three inches of leg below the butt. Employee violations can lead to fines for business owners, along with a requirement to register for a special license (which the city can deny) and a five-year probationary period. Subsequent employee violations during the probationary period can get the establishment's food-service license revoked. And if the owners are judged to have "facilitated" the "lewd conduct," they can be slapped with a $5,000 fine and a year in jail. Essentially, Everett has created a crime similar to promoting prostitution—but for facilitating skimpy clothing. "This is not about being offended by people wearing bikinis," said Ramerman. "Some of these stands had the characteristics of a poorly run strip club, and trying to enforce standards under [Everett's lewd-conduct] law was simply ineffective." He told KOMO News that "this business model is just fertile ground for...exploitation." Liberty Ziska, an Everett bikini barista and one the plaintiffs in the new suit, disagrees. "I choose my own clothing at work, and for me, the message I send is freedom," she said in a statement. Again, the rule is based on public morals, not public health: The City Council cited concerns about "barista stands with employees dressing in a manner that is closely and customarily associated with adult entertainment or adult situations." (Guess they've never heard of beaches?) "The minimalistic nature of the clothing...lends itself to criminal conduct," the council suggested; it could "have adverse impacts upon minors." Police in the past have simply busted baristas found to be engaging in criminal conduct. But city officials note that bikinis "can be quickly and simply partially or fully removed or adjusted...in a manner that is not easy to detect unless someone is placed in the same proximity of the patron," making it difficult to find individual violations. Under the new rules, no lewd conduct is required, just a skirt that's a little too short. Everett officials also warned that left unchecked, the bikini coffee stand aesthetic could soon spread to fast food restaurants, delis, and food trucks. As evidence, they noted that "in Florida in the 90s, the popularity of bikini hot dog stands lead to similar bikni type businesses when local authorities enacted dress requirements for hot dog stands." This generated "the same negative secondary effects," say city officials, giving as an example the fact that "a bikini hot dog vendor in New York was arrested for prostitution." At a hearing on the proposed ordinance, and in the local paper, citizens of Everett have expressed anger at the bikini law. "It's our bodies and it's our choice," said E[...]



Penn Law Prof. Amy Wax on Her Controversial 'Return to Cultural Norms' Editorial

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 16:00:00 -0400

University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax argued in an editorial that many of the problems plaguing American society—opioid abuse, unemployment, inner-city violence—can be traced to "the breakdown of the country's bourgeois culture."

Wax and her co-author suggested the "re-embrace" of cultural norms such as education, marriage before children, and respect for authority by Americans would "significantly reduce society's pathologies."

The firestorm that followed the editorial's publication culminated in 33 members of the Penn Law faculty publicly denouncing Wax in an open letter published in The Daily Pennsylvanian. The professors did not engage Wax's arguments on the merits, but instead spoke of their concern for an ideal educational experience in which people "respect one another without bias or stereotype."

The letter concluded with a thinly veiled invitation to students to report Wax or anyone else who doesn't toe the company line when it comes to matters of diversity: "To our students, we say the following: If your experience at Penn Law falls substantially short of this ideal, something has gone wrong, and we want to know about it."

Wax told me she viewed the letter's closing line as "an invitation to squeal and complain." She said "the invitation feeds into and reinforces the current mode of shutting down controversial speech, which is to evoke hurt feelings or offense." Wax also said that in the wake of the open letter, Penn Law students have been discussing "establishing their own complaint committee to which students can tattle when a professor or fellow student says something they don't like"—an institution one student called the "Stasi Committee."

Sadly, this kind of committee is par for the course on campus nowadays—while Penn does not currently have a formal bias reporting system, a recent report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) found that hundreds of colleges and universities around the country maintain formal bias reporting systems, most of which actively solicit reports of offensive but protected speech from students and faculty.

In our conversation, Wax also lamented the effect this rat-out-your-neighbor atmosphere is having on campus, noting that "lately students have been complaining to me about peer pressure, name-calling and intimidation on the part of other students," and about "the oppressive atmosphere of political correctness." Although Penn has strong free-speech protections in place, "most students are fairly cynical about the readiness of the university to defend them from censure or sanction if they say 'the wrong thing,'" she told me.

There has been one silver lining for Wax: support has poured in from people around the country. She has received quiet whispers of support at Penn, but the real show of support "has come from ordinary citizens, from the forgotten man, and many have been quite thoughtful and intelligent. I have learned—although I already knew—the progressive professoriat really is despised by a good part of the citizenry. People believe that the elite academy is destroying our country, and what's good about it."