Should Abortion Supporters Have Free Speech Rights?

By George Yancey Published on April 30, 2017

I have been a strong defender of free speech on college campuses. I have written about the concerns non-leftist professors have about their free speech rights. I am a member of Heterodox Academy, an organization formed to promote academic freedom. In the past, I have been one of the biggest defenders of free speech for college students and professors.

But perhaps I have been wrong.

No Free Speech Rights If You Attack Marginalized Groups!

A recent New York Times op-ed has made me completely rethink my commitment to free speech. Dr. Ulrich Baer, a vice provost and professor of comparative literature, argues that free speech is not an absolute right. Indeed, he argues that we need limits to speech to protect those who have not had “standing” — social legitimacy — in the past. He also does not believe we should have debates where people have to defend their “human worth”. And you know what? I’m beginning to see the light!

Given what Dr. Baer has argued, we should deny free speech to people like Ann Coulter, Charles Murray and Milo Yiannopoulos. Their speech attacks people who are without standing. It forces marginalized people to defend their human worth. Speech like that has no place on a college campus!

But why stop there? There’s another major group whose worth is marginalized, whose members have little standing. There are plenty of speakers who attack this group and force others to defend them. If we’re going to be consistent about it, we need to take away those speakers’ free speech rights on the college campus as well.

Which Includes Unborn Humans

Why should we allow a speaker to denigrate the worth of this class of humans?

I am talking about speakers who support abortion.

After all, who in our society has less standing than an unborn human? Such a human can be killed simply because his or her mother wants the kid dead. The fact that we can so easily kill an unborn child shows the lack of human worth we give him or her. Why should we allow a speaker to denigrate the worth of this class of humans? We shouldn’t; and under Dr Baer’s plan, we do not have to allow this any longer.

By now it should be obvious that I am engaging in satire. I may not be very good at satire, but my point remains. The same reasoning Dr. Baer offers for not allowing certain conservative speakers to speak can be used just as well to deny free speech rights to pro-choice groups.

What I Really Mean To Say Is…

My actual (non-satire) stance regarding free speech is one I hold to consistently: I think we should grant free speech rights to all who have a student group willing to sponsor them. What about Dr. Baer: is he likewise consistent with his own standards? I doubt it.

You see, I am willing to bet that Dr. Baer would prefer not to restrict NARAL’s free speech rights. I’m sure he would try to come up with some rationale to allow them to speak. He might argue that pro-choice groups are fighting for the rights of women. Okay, but people who support Coulter can argue that she is fighting for the rights of natural-born citizens. At least she is not calling for allowing members of any marginalized group to be killed, unlike pro-choice speakers.

Approved Ideas Only?

But the hypocrisy of the argument is staggering.

Dr. Baer wasn’t the first person to argue this way in favor of limiting free speech, and he will not be the last. But the hypocrisy of the argument is staggering. Those who make this argument, or the argument that we can limit hate speech, demand for themselves the right to decide for the rest of us what speech dehumanizes others or is hateful. In doing so they can limit speech to arguments they have preapproved. So Dr. Murray is out and NARAL is in.

In the world I want to live in, no one gets to prejudge what speech is allowed. If some college group wants to bring the racist nutball Richard Spencer to their campus, then that says a lot about that college group. I have no problem with people speaking out against Spencer and the group for bringing him here — but we dare not stop Spencer from talking.

It starts with someone like Spencer, then soon afterward speech like Coulter’s is designated hate speech. Then run-of-the-mill conservatives such as Ben Carson can be deemed haters, too, and possible denied opportunity to speak. It does not stop. Once we start taking away free speech rights due to the speaker’s content, we will head to a society where only “approved” ideas will be allowed.

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  • Timothy Horton

    The courts have long ruled that even free speech has limits – see the famous “free speech doesn’t let you yell FIRE! in a crowded theater.” Free speech also doesn’t mean you have the right to harass and verbally attack others as you see fit, like screaming “baby murderer!!” at a woman entering a PP clinic. There’s a fine line between free speech which is protected and hate speech which is not. Too many times RW talking heads like Coulter have crossed that line which may be why not many are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt now.

    • Stan_t_Man

      …see the famous “free speech doesn’t let you yell FIRE! in a crowded theater.”
      That is easily the most moronic judicial ruling ever.

      And while there is no such thing as ‘hate’ speech, what you are trying to define as such is most definitely protected by the 1st Amendment.

    • GPS Daddy

      While you are right, Timothy, that free
      speech has limits, you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, but the
      left has gone way too far to the other side. Take college campuses in
      their view of “micro aggression” or “safe zones”. Have
      you seen the rules on what you cannot wear on Halloween just so
      someone is not offended? Craziness rules these days on our college
      campuses. And the response to “conservative” speakers on college
      campuses is acceptable? NOT! Those violent offenders need to be
      brought to justice.

      But free speech has gone way too far in
      other ways as well endangering women and girls across the country and
      taking away from them what they have worked so hard for. Take for
      example the growing number of men who are now competing as women in
      sports. This is a free speech issue. They may feel like a women. They
      may think they are a women but that does not give them the right to
      compete as a women when their body is the body of a man.

      But “free speech” has given the
      cover for sexual predators in our society. Under the ruse of being a
      women sexual predators are now abusing the gender confusion that we
      have to spy in bathrooms. Target is having a real problem with this.

      Climate change is another area as well.
      The Obama justice department was looking for way to prosecute climate
      deniers. Hmmm, well there goes free speech. If you go against the
      “consensus” then you can be prosecuted as a criminal…

      There was a day in our society when
      people got sued over things that are said today social media. The
      vileness, the false accusations, etc… also fall outside of the
      “free speech” spectrum. It so permeates social media today I
      think there are few that are innocent.

      • Stan_t_Man

        Actually, there is nothing wrong with yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater.

        • GPS Daddy

          Yes there is stan. And there rightfully is a law against it.

          • Stan_t_Man

            There are no laws against yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater. Where did you get such an idea?

          • GPS Daddy

            Yes it does Stan. That kind of speech falls under speech that leads to the lose of life. And there are laws about that. You yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire, a stampede ensues and people are injured or killed then you can be held accountable legally.

          • Stan_t_Man

            First and foremost, there is NO LAW that states you cannot yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater.
            1) What if there is a fire?
            2) What is the yelling is part of the performance?
            3) What if I yell “FIRE” and nothing happens?

            Yes, it is against the law to incite a riot or cause people harm, but that it not the same as trying to claim that it is against the law to shout a word in a theater.

          • GPS Daddy

            Stan, your taking the way I used the phrase out of context. Are you just wanting to argue?

          • Stan_t_Man

            I’m trying to correct your statement and it is not out of context. There is NO LAW against shouting fire in a crowded theater!

          • GPS Daddy

            Your just wanting to argue.

          • Stan_t_Man

            It is so sad you cannot admit you are wrong.

          • Timothy Horton

            Where in this thread did someone say there is a specific law against shouting the specific word FIRE in a crowded theater? My comment was “”free speech doesn’t let you yell FIRE! in a crowded theater”, which it doesn’t.

            You seem to have made the rest up yourself.

          • Stan_t_Man

            “Yes there is stan, with the caveat that there is NOT a fire.. And there rightfully is a law against it.”
            Try to keep up with the thread!

          • Timothy Horton

            GPS_Daddy clarified what he meant in his very next post as NOT being what you claimed. You ignored it and kept pushing your stupid strawman. That’s rather dishonest of you.

          • Stan_t_Man

            Rather dishonest? First you claim that no one made the statement, then you claim that it was made, but later ‘clarified’.
            Clearly you are not to be regarded as a serious debater.
            When you get your stories straight, please let me know!

          • Timothy Horton

            First you claim that no one made the statement, then you claim that it was made, but later ‘clarified’

            There you go lying again. I never said it was made and later clarified. I said GPS-Daddy didn’t say what you claimed and even told you so himself.

            When you decide you want to stop lying and trolling let us know.

          • Stan_t_Man

            “Where in this thread did someone say there is a specific law against shouting the specific word FIRE in a crowded theater?”
            GPS-Daddy said it, and said there was a law against it.The only one lying here is YOU!!!

          • Timothy Horton

            GPS was right. You’re just here to troll and will lie to keep it going.

          • Stan_t_Man

            GPS is an idiot and so are you. He didn’t clarify anything and doubled down on his stupid.

            If I am in a crowded theater, and there is no fire, and I yell “FIRE!”, and no one riots or panics or does anything, has a crime been committed?
            NO, IT HAS NOT!
            There is NO LAW stating that shouting fire in a crowded theater is against the law. NONE!

            Now, argue your own point and let GPS’s stupidity stand by itself!

          • Jim Walker

            Please try it and take selfies or video doing it and write an article here.oh do it with all your loved ones in that theater.

        • Timothy Horton

          Here’s a little history lesson.

          The meme about “yelling FIRE in a crowded theater” comes from a statement by Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. It was part of the 1919 case Schenck v. United States which ruled that free speech wasn’t protected in cases the speech was dangerous and false.

          The actual statement by Holmes was “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

          It is thought the statement by Holmes was a reference to a horrible disaster which occurred just 6 years before, in 1913 in the town of Calumet Michigan. Calumet was a mining town with a population of around 15,000 with most adults employed by the local copper mining company. That year there had been a number of strikes by the miners and tensions were still high. On Christmas Eve 1913 about 500 miners, their wives and children were crowded into the second floor of the Italian Hall for a Christmas celebration. There was only one narrow wooden staircase down from the second floor to the first. Most reports say a mining company man stuck his head in the room and yelled FIRE! just to disrupt the miner’s celebrations. A panic broke out and everyone fled for the only exit down the stairs. Someone at the bottom fell, those behind kept pushing and falling too. When it was over 73 people had been crushed to death, mostly children. No one was ever brought to trial for the tragedy.


          Think about that story the next time you feel like joking about yelling FIRE! in a crowded room.

          • Stan_t_Man

            I’m not joking, and you are missing the point in your lame attempt to absolve yourself. Also, I am well aware of where this phrase comes from.

            It is not the yelling of FIRE in a crowded theater that is at issue. What Holmes was saying is that a person cannot claim protection from the 1st Amendment for causing a riot.
            Again, if I yell fire and there is a fire, then there is no problem. If I yell fire and no one panics or riots, there is no problem. These two simple examples PROVE that is it not the yelling of Fire! that is at issue, but the aftermath.
            I understand there are limits of free speech, but what you are doing here is trying to stop speech (the non-existent HATE speech) not because of what a person says, but because of someone else’s reaction to it. That is the opposite of free speech, and you know it.

          • Timothy Horton

            Keep doubling down on the trolling and stupidity. I’m sure you can dig that hole even deeper.

          • Stan_t_Man

            You and GPS are the same, you just cannot stand to have your thoughts challenged or your ideas dismissed. You are clearly wrong on this, just accept it.

          • Timothy Horton

            If I yell fire and no one panics or riots, there is no problem.

            What a stupid claim. The attempt to cause a harmful panic is still there and still illegal. Just like firing a gun into a crowd. If by some miracle you miss everyone you can’t say “well, since no one was shot I committed no crime”.

          • Stan_t_Man

            Again, the crime is in the riot, NOT IN THE WORD FIRE.
            Why is that so difficult for you to understand. You are clearly in favor of criminalizing speech based upon how someone else reacts.

          • Timothy Horton

            No moron, it’s still a crime to attempt to create a dangerous situation.

            As suggested, why don’t you go to a crowded theater in real life and start shouting FIRE! at everyone. See what happens when the police and fire departments arrive and you give them the stupid argument “no harm no foul”.

          • Stan_t_Man

            OK, I have it now. You want to criminalize speech you don’t like. I get it.
            Anything said by anyone that makes you angry or sad or unable to control yourself should be banned. You should have just said that in the first place.

            Have the last word if you wish, fascist. I’m done with you!

      • Timothy Horton

        I actually agree with you that in some cases the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Groups that were once the minority and denied their right to protest are now the majority and making the mistakes their previous oppressors made. You guess is as good as mine as to where the best middle ground is.

        • GPS Daddy

          Hurray, Timothy. We have found some common ground.

    • Az1seeit

      So. Let me get this straight. It’s not hate speech for Madonna to get up and talk about bombing the White House…or whatever, er…loving…thing she said about our President? It’s “free speech” for the BLMbots to chant about a violent end to the police? Sounds like hate speech to me. And yet, a conservative has no right to express anything at all on campus because…they are? Mr. Horton, you are on the losing end of this argument if you do not clearly see that any censure that shuts down the expression of any viewpoint violates the constitutional right to free speech. It doesn’t matter what side you are on, you WANT speech to be protected, because the minute it isn’t, YOU will be shut down. Just. Sayin’.

      • Timothy Horton

        I’m already partially shut down on this very board. I’ve had any number of polite science posts just vanish merely because they provided evidence against the majority religious conservative views here. So have at least three other pro-science posters I know of.

        • Az1seeit

          Didn’t like it, did you? There you have it.

          • Timothy Horton

            Actually this board is a private discussion forum where the owners have every right to moderate as they see fit. College campuses are also the responsibility of the campus regents who have every right to moderate what they deem as potentially harmful speech. Actions have consequences and the regents have every right to stop actions with a high probability of harmful consequences.

          • Az1seeit

            Frankly, I don’t see the correlation, especially for a college campus, supposedly a place of higher learning, not a day care where children must be protected. The simple reality that you don’t want to admit to is the existence of the thought police. The freedoms of conscience, religion and speech we are all constitutionally entitled to – and granted by our Maker – are all being trampled by the politically correct jack boots of liberal fascists…who have presumed the authority to decide what is acceptable or not! This is a very dangerous precedent, Mr. Horton. This is my point.

          • Timothy Horton

            The freedoms of conscience, religion and speech we are all constitutionally entitled to

            Those freedoms aren’t absolute. You don’t have the right to threaten or actually harm others with your speech or actions.

            As an extreme example, say Fred’s religion teaches him your religion is worthless and he can hit you in face with a shovel any time he wants. Does Fred have religious freedom under the Constitution to actually smash your face in with a spade?

          • Az1seeit

            Apparently he does. The left has the “religious” freedom to beat down Trump supporters, riot and then destroy private property….all because, as you continue to ignore, there is now the thought police that decides right and wrong. I’m sorry that you do not get the big picture here, because this is going to destroy the freedom and liberty in this country that you enjoy.

  • It’s very clear: freedom of speech should be protected. It becomes restricted when it is used to incite hatred/violence against any particular group, or to encourage a crime. What you think or say to your friends/in private/or in receptive company, no matter how perverse, is not the business of the law. There are many people with whom I disagree very strongly, but I defend their right to speak. I am not a fan of either Ann Coulter, Dr. Murray or Milo Yiannopoulous, but I defend their right to speak. Speech that one disagrees with should be countered with other speech. That’s called debate.

‘I Will Love Them Freely’
Charles Spurgeon
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