Free speech includes the right to be rude

In a victory for free speech, a United States Magistrate in the Northern District of California ruled that free speech includes the right to be rude, and squashed a California State University rule barring “incivility”:

To the relief of a campus Republican group, the 417,000 students at California State University’s 23 institutions no longer face the possibility of discipline for failing to be civil to one another.

The change was part of a settlement approved by a federal magistrate in Oakland this week in a lawsuit by the San Francisco State College Republicans, whose members were subjected to a disciplinary hearing after some of them stomped on two flags bearing the name of Allah during an anti-terrorism rally in October 2006.

The flags represented the militant organizations Hamas and Hezbollah and had “Allah” written on them in Arabic. A student later complained that the College Republicans had engaged in “actions of incivility” and had tried to incite violence and create a hostile environment.

A panel of students, faculty and staff held a hearing in March 2007 and found no violations of university policy. But the College Republicans and two of their leaders filed suit four months later, challenging the speech and conduct codes that led to the disciplinary proceedings.

One line in the policy manual that applies to all 23 campuses says students are expected to be civil to one another. University officials said the manual didn’t set disciplinary standards or authorize punishment for incivility, but U.S. Magistrate Wayne Brazil said the Republican group at San Francisco State had been investigated for precisely that reason.

“The First Amendment permits disrespectful and totally emotional discourse,” Brazil said at a hearing in November, when he announced an injunction prohibiting the university from enforcing the civility standard in any disciplinary proceeding.

This week’s settlement includes a systemwide ban on punishment for incivility, along with revisions in the standards for student conduct at San Francisco State.

You can read more here. You’ll discover the Brazil cleared away several more First Amendment problems with the State University system’s speech code.

This is a spectacularly good ruling, in that it levels the playing field for conservatives as places such as San Francisco State University, where this whole thing arose. You see, the way SF State works, as I detailed a year ago in this post, civility is demanded only of the Right. The Left, especially the antisemitic Left, has never been held to this standard. Removing the speech code doesn’t mean that the Left will be any less vile or violent at SF State, but it does mean that the Right cannot be prosecuted within the University system for speaking up against such attacks.

One other thing: did you note, as I did, that the news article begins by opining that this is a good ruling, not for freedom of speech, but for College Republicans? It’s just a little nothing, but it certainly tries to tear the Magistrate’s ruling away from its much broader Constitutional implications. As Brazil said: “The First Amendment permits disrespectful and totally emotional discourse.” He gets it. The newspaper doesn’t.

As to that last point, I was not the only one who picked up on it. In the comments to the article, someone wrote:

Man. Whoever wrote this article is one biased journalist. “To the relief of campus republican groups” students “no longer face the possibility of discipline for failing to be civil to one another”. How about giving your readers some credit and just report the facts. I’m not even a republican but I’m finding it more and more to be a big waste of time to read such blatantly biased journalism. This is very common with the Chronicle. However, I guess a 3rd rate newspaper needs to make cute little headlines and intro’s to keep its local readers nice and comfy so that they don’t venture out of their realm of preconceived beliefs.

It’s nice to see these perfect little moments when even the liberals get offended by newspaper bias.