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Protecting Free Speech and Press: A Critique of “Defending Our Community Values: A Letter to the Editors”

Kevin,

I would like to respectfully address the ideas you posited in your article, many of which are indicative of the exact problems regarding discourse and speech here at Haverford. I feel this response is necessary because your views do represent a portion of the school that disagrees with me and I feel the best way to respond to such critique is through direct and open discourse.

You offer the opinion that my historical comparisons are illegitimate because there is no correlation between these events and the current situation at Haverford. However, the presented counter-arguments reflect a failure to understand the basis for my comparison. I included these examples to reflect a similarity between the modus operandi of the Haverford Honor Code and the perpetrators of these genocides and their justifications for silencing the speech of and exterminating certain groups of people. If you wish for me to briefly enumerate upon each example specifically, I will address them in order of mention in my article. In Nazi Germany, the Jews were considered a security threat to the German nation. In Turkey, the Armenians were considered a security threat to the Turkish nation. In Rwanda, the Tutsi were considered a security threat to the Hutu interests in the Rwandan nation. In Iran, the Baha’i and the Kurds were considered a security threat to the Iranian nation. In Iraq, the Kurds were considered a security threat to the Iraqi nation. In every instance, these were subjective determinations by the majority of individuals in the nation and justified atrocious acts. As I explicitly clarified in my article, I am not comparing these genocides and atrocities to what is currently occurring at Haverford; however, I am making a comparison between our ideological justifications for denying speech and the ideological justifications given for these events.  At Haverford College, many believe that certain ideologies and their associated groups are a security threat to the interests of minorities on campus and, therefore, they should be subject to institutional punishment due to the messages contained in their speech or expression. My argument, in accordance with the words of the Supreme Court in R.A.V. v. Supreme Court, is that these security interests are not legitimate justifications for viewpoint discrimination and the selective punishment associated with it.

Addressing your point specifically about Rwanda and the United States’ decision concerning radio jamming and free speech—it is overtly evident that the United States should have intervened in this situation. The reasoning for this intervention, believe it or not, is enshrined in the Constitution and judicial precedent concerning free speech. Here in the United States, there are certain exceptions to free speech in extreme cases. One such exception is referred to as “fighting words,” which although they are more narrowly applicable than when the exception was first mentioned in the 1940s, still hold weight in considerations of what protected speech is. In this case, the Interahamwe militia’s message to “exterminate the cockroaches” would fall under “fighting words” because they advocated for violent action and an unreasonable threat to public peace. Thus, they would not be protected under the First Amendment. You have presumed that I agree with this decision because I am identifying a problem with free speech on Haverford’s campus. My committal to free speech and expression does not mean that I automatically espouse this mistake on the part of the State Department Legal Advisor’s Office.

Now that I have clarified those points, I believe it is important to proceed to the latter half of your article. You repeatedly emphasize, through the usage of italics, that I was a signatory of the Honor Code, stating that I “signed a social contract to follow our behavior standards.” This is factually correct; however, this does not mean I resigned my right to critique and take issue with these behavioral standards. In the subsection of the Honor Code entitled “Honor Council,” the Code explicitly states:

“members are obligated to confront each other and the administration regarding errors and points of dissent with proper procedure in relation to the Honor Code and Council’s internal affairs, especially if they feel they are not fulfilling their community responsibilities or fully abiding by the Code.”

While I may not be a member of Honor Council, I maintain that I have this same ability to dissent to the current procedure of Honor Code to reach the values enshrined in the Honor Council. Additionally, the exact pledge I took, as stated in Section 3.07 of the Honor Code, is “I hereby accept the Haverford Honor Code, realizing that it is my duty to uphold the Honor Code and the concepts of personal and collective responsibility upon which it is based.” Contractually, I remain fully committed to the values expressed in this code and recognize my personal and collective responsibility as a member of this community; once again, this does not mean that I unquestioningly follow the Honor Code and its stipulations, rather, I may disagree, privately or publicly, with the lack of procedural methods regarding the Social Honor Code and the potential abuses they allow. Just as we agree to follow the dictates of laws in the United States, I agreed to follow the Honor Code, but never forfeited my right to question it. Therefore, implying that I must abide by the dictates of this community without question or appeal is entirely incorrect and a dangerous way of conceptualizing membership to the Haverford community. Finally, I would like to mention that, in the clause of the Honor Code I take issue with, it also mentions that “discrimination and harassment, including…political ideology” are in violation of the Honor Code. The fact is, the current lack of procedures regarding Social Honor Code violations allows for subjective determinations of offense and violation and, since Haverford is overwhelmingly of a particular political persuasion, this results de facto viewpoint discrimination based upon political ideology.

Continuing to critique what I perceive as dangerous ideas, I would like to proceed now to a question you ask in your article: “Is a Moral Majority even a bad thing?” My answer to that, unequivocally, is “Yes.” Once again, this one of the ideas I attempted to approach in my original article by referencing historical atrocities and is central to the problem I take with Honor Code in its current form. As I mentioned explicitly in my last article, a moral majority, masquerading as a moral absolute and suppressing dissent, is, indeed, “a bad thing,” especially when there is a clear lack of protection for the opinions’ of ideological minorities on campus. For example, when the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. mobilized individuals, spoke out, and fought for an end to the dehumanizing practice of segregation in the Jim Crow South, he faced an ideological majority comprised of people who viewed desegregation as a threat to their security. Last I checked, just because the majority of people agrees with a particular moral standard does not mean they possess the authoritative truth on what constitutes moral action. Although the moral majority in the Jim Crow South believed Dr. King’s approach, message, or both to be illegitimate, perceived him as a threat, and sought to erase his message, this does not mean that he was automatically morally wrong.

Transitioning to my next point, I am not, as you claim, “co-opting a civil rights leader and quoting him grossly out of context.” Rather, there is legitimate reasoning behind including this quotation in my article. If you read Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” you will encounter explicit denunciations of viewpoint discrimination. Specifically, in his discussion of just and unjust laws, Dr. King states that, “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.” Currently, through the de facto institutionalization of viewpoint discrimination in our Social Honor Code, we face this exact situation. Though my argument concerns a different topic than Dr. King’s, I espouse this same fundamental belief concerning unjust laws and abide by it in my analysis on why I believe the Social Honor Code is illegitimate in its current form.

In this portion, I will address your final two paragraphs and clarify important points to avoid the conflations made. First, this is not “fake moderacy;” this is an appeal to the Haverford community to reflect on how, due to viewpoint discrimination, our value of pluralism is endangered. Furthermore, I never stated or suggested that “cross burners are marginalized.” My point is that non-majoritarian opinions and ideologies on campus are unduly subject to institutional punishment, and therefore comparatively marginalized, due to the messages they contained, messages the First Amendment protects. Finally, you state that “moral majorities are not created equal[ly],” attempt to differentiate Haverford from the historical events mentioned, and imply that I am utilizing atrocities in a haphazard and illegitimate way. As I believe I have already clarified these issues in this article, I would like to overtly state my “incoherent point.” The sordid state of free speech at Haverford College demands reflection and action. By allowing for viewpoint discrimination in our institutional proceedings, we threaten unpopular voices and opinions into a stifling silence in the name of security interests and subjective moral standards. If we are to actualize our commitment to pluralism, this incongruence must not be allowed to persist. While our values are noble, the ways in which we are currently trying to realize them, are illegitimate because they discriminate against ideology. It is one thing to peacefully confront an individual over their beliefs or to communally express our dissatisfaction with an action, but another to institutionalize our subjective moral standards in the Honor Code.

As members of an intentional community dedicated to confronting these social ills, I believe it is important to recognize that we share the same objective, just posit different methods by which to achieve these laudable goals. Although I believe in the legitimacy of these goals, I cannot in good conscience remain silent when the disallowance of free speech, as defined by the First Amendment and Supreme Court precedent, remains the procedure by which we seek to actualize our shared commitments. As members of a community that supposedly supports pluralistic ideals and peaceful discourse, I believe that the ideas in my article, while controversial, deserve to be and must be debated if we wish to protect and reaffirm our commitment to pluralism. I apologize if this article also fails to meet your expectations for me as a Haverford student and fellow community member, but I believe this issue is important enough for me to subject myself to such disapproval.

With the Utmost Trust, Concern, and Respect,

David Michael Canada ‘20

 

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