Limits on free speech present unforeseen consequences

Connor Ellington

Former University Democrats president Andrew Herrera’s op-ed is worrisome. We’re told that the University of Texas administration is not as liberal as we might think. As evidence of the administration’s “turn(ing) a blind eye to hatred,” Herrera points to a Kavanaugh rally, an affirmative action bake sale and a demonstration celebrating the death of communist icon Che Guevara — a known racist, mass murderer and associate of despots like Fidel Castro. Presumably, he thinks that these events should not have been allowed. He characterizes the University’s response as turning a blind eye to these demonstrations despite the fact that these were condemned and criticized by University officials.

There’s a contradiction in the article: In one paragraph, Herrera implies the administration did not properly punish the Young Conservatives of Texas for their free expression, and in the next, complains of how leftists in the past have been restricted by bad speech policies. A university that has the discretion to stop conservatives from voicing their opinion in order to “keep the peace” has the same discretion to prevent anti-war protesters or
critics of popular sentiments from speaking. 

Administrations change, as do the values of administrators. This is significant because powers granted to one administration continue on to the next.  It’s why those on the left who cried outrage at the expansion of executive power under George W. Bush — such as his use of executive orders to limit legislation he found disagreeable — were silent when Barack Obama signed an equivalent amount of executive orders. And suddenly again, a great number in the UT community are concerned with the discretion that Donald Trump now has as president. If you wouldn’t trust a conservative administration with the power to silence voices, then there is no reason that you should trust a left-leaning one to be responsible either.

I am reminded of a point made by the late Christopher Hitchens in reciting Robert Bolt’s “A Man of All Seasons.” He quotes, “(Sir Thomas) Moore is arguing with a particularly vicious witch-hunting prosecutor … and Moore says to this man ‘You’d break the law to punish the Devil, wouldn’t you?’ And the prosecutor … says ‘Break it?’ He says ‘I’d cut down every law in England if I could do that …’ And Moore says ‘… And then when you corner the Devil and the Devil turned round to meet you, where would you run for protection? All the laws of England having been cut down and flattened, who would protect you then?’”

The very remedies to speech that Herrera does not like are precisely those that were used against those on the left in years past. Communists were thrown in jail for distributing communist literature and attending meetings. Protesters were jailed for criticizing the draft, protesting U.S. involvement in the Russian Revolution and teaching Marxist literature. 

When the state has been the authority on what speech is and is not acceptable, injustice has followed. When someone with moral conviction argues that we should allow it to do so, it should give us great pause. If implemented, means used to silence those Herrera disagrees with will inevitably come back in ways wholly unintended and with great consequence.

Ellington is a first-year law student from Garland.