Tuesday, October 26, 2010

uninviting a speaker is censorship: Elizabeth Moon, Wiscon, ACLU, and more

Many of the supporters of uninviting Elizabeth Moon from Wiscon claim it's not censorship. In Marginalizing vs. Silencing -- My hopefully final thoughts on the WisCon/Moon fiasco, Saladin Ahmed says "It's not censorship or silencing - it's marginalizing." K. Tempest Bradford asks in You People Are Out Of Your Goddamned Minds, "You people do not even understand what censorship means, do you?"

So I thought I'd look at some authorities and check on common usage. Random House says a censor is "any person who supervises the manners or morality of others." Wikipedia's at the intersection of authority and usage: "Censorship is the suppression of speech or other communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body."

Looking for usage brought me to Clark University President John Basset Cancels Norman G. Finkelstein, which includes a response from the ACLU. Some bits (with some typos corrected):
...the cancellation of his speech violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are so fundamental to an institute of higher learning. The existence of an opportunity to speak at another time or in another location does not remedy the wrong of censorship.

...Nor may complaints from those disturbed by Finkelstein’s writings about the post-Holocaust “industry” justify a decision to prevent the lecture from taking place. Indeed, even if demonstrators came to protest against Finkelstein’s views, the obligation of a university is to protect the speaker’s right to be heard and prevent disruption of the speech by others. By censoring speech because of complaints about offensiveness or the controversial nature of the speaker, the university has essentially allowed what the courts call a “heckler’s veto” over what speech can be heard.
The writer quotes the president of Tufts University, which, like Clark, is a private school:
While Tufts is a private institution and not technically bound by First Amendment guarantees, it is my intention to govern as President as if we were. To put it another way, I believe that students, faculty, and staff should enjoy the same rights to freedom of expression at Tufts as they would if they attended or worked at a public university….During the McCarthy era, a number of university presidents in the United States failed to defend the principle of expression. Students, faculty, and stuff paid for this equivocation as the government sought to purge University campuses of those expressing particularly unpopular opinions. We must be vigilant in defending individual liberties even if it means that from time to time we must tolerate speech that violates our standards of civility and respect.
And there's this, from the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences' free speech guidelines:
Because no other community defines itself so much in terms of knowledge, few others place such a high priority on freedom of speech. As a community, we take certain risks by assigning such a high priority to free speech. We assume that the long-term benefits to our community will outweigh the short-term unpleasnt effects of sometimes-noxious views. Because we a community united by a commitment to rational processes, we do not permit censorship of noxious ideas. We are commited to maintaining a climate in which reason and speech provide the correct response to a disagreeable idea.
My googling brought up other examples of "censorship" applied to canceling speakers:

NCAC Protests Cancellation of Ellen Hopkins Appearance at Teen Lit Fest in Texas -- NCAC
After Hopkins was disinvited to Teen Lit Fest 2011, five other authors dropped out in protest rather than participate in an event that had censored another author. Sadly for the students of the area, the program has been cancelled. Some might blame the authors who withdrew, but we think full responsibility rests on the school officials who made the decision to censor Hopkins.
I was amused by this comment at Censors and Heroes - The Texas Observer
Personally, I’m convinced that un-inviting Hopkins was indeed a form of censorship. You might disagree. However, I think we can all agree that it was very bad manners, and would never be tolerated in the Junior League.
See also:

Authors' boycott cancels Teen Lit festival after Ellen Hopkins 'disinvited' | Books | guardian.co.uk

Vanessa Redgrave: Censorship of the Worst Kind

Library Censorship Overturned

Censorship and Anti-Intellectualism UPDATED - Anthropologist Underground - Open Salon.

Panel on Islam Cancelled at ALA | LISNews.

Some of the defenders of canceling Moon's appearance cite Frederick Douglass. They obviously haven't read his A Plea for Free Speech. He writes, "To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. It is just as criminal to rob a man of his right to speak and hear as it would be to rob him of his money."

Henry Steele Commager sums it up nicely: "The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion."

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