The Double Standard on Freedom of Speech and Racism at American Universities Like Columbia

by | Apr 19, 2024

Universities cannot morally punish anti-black racism while tolerating anti-Jewish racism, even if the First Amendment protects both.

Columbia University’s president and other college administrators have stated that the chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is permissible political speech.

On an abstract level, they are correct. It is also permissible for white supremacists to demand all blacks be sent back to Africa and all Muslims to Saudi Arabia.

The First Amendment protects homophobic, sexist and transphobic speech too.

But would any school permit such bigoted chants?

Imagine what would happen if a group of white-supremacist students demanded South Africa be returned to white apartheid control: “From the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, South Africa should be free of BLACKS and returned to WHITE control!”

Would it take action against such racists?

Of course it would.

The racist diversity, equity and inclusion bureaucracy and its bigoted brother “intersectionality” would demand it, and the school would comply.

So the issue is not one of abstract free speech. It is whether the school applies the same standard to Jews, blacks, gays and other minorities.

And with these universities the answer is clearly no.

What is permissible to say against Jews and Israel would not be permissible to say against blacks or gays. That is the reality.

Universities, whether public or private, should apply a single standard of free speech, harassment and tolerance for dissenting views.

As the Supreme Court has held, there’s no such thing as a false idea under the First Amendment.

There is also no such thing as a true or good idea that is given preference over false or bad ideas.

There must be what we’ll call “a circle of symmetry.”

And what is outside and inside the circle must be based on neutral principles.

Columbia and other universities must decide whether to ban or permit all racist, sexist, homophobic, antisemitic and other offensive speech.

They cannot punish anti-black racism while tolerating anti-Jewish racism, even if the First Amendment protects both.

Columbia and other universities must make a decision: apply the First Amendment and permit all forms of bigotry; or design symmetrical neutral rules that protect all groups equally.

What is unacceptable is what most universities are doing today: protecting some minorities favored by DEI and intersectionality over Jews and other minorities disfavored by DEI.

This double standard cannot be allowed to become the accepted standard, as it has at Columbia, Harvard and other universities.

Jews are explicitly second-class citizens under DEI and intersectionality.

These ideas have been the source of some of the worst anti-Jewish and anti-Israel demonstrations, petitions and harassment.

As long as these bigoted bureaucracies continue to hold sway at universities, corporations and other institutions, Jews will continue to be the object of discriminatory treatment in speech, admissions, hiring and other decisions.

These bureaucracies must be dismantled, uprooted and delegitimized if real equality and meritocracy are ever to be restored, as they should be in every institution.

But many universities are doubling down on their commitments to these dangerous ideologies.

Presidents, professors and administrators in most schools are too terrified to challenge these powerful bureaucracies.

But they must if the future of America’s great universities is to be preserved.

Alan Dershowitz is professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and the author of “Get Trump,” “Guilt by Accusation” and “The Price of Principle.” Active in litigation, writing, and defense of civil liberties and human rights. Visit his substack and follow him at @AlanDersh.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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