Greg Lukianoff: How Campus Censorship Breeds Incivility, An interview with Wendy Kaminer

December 27, 2012

I am both psyched and honored that Marc asked me to contribute to The Legal Satyricon. I am a First Amendment lawyer and president of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Marc and I know each other through the First Amendment Lawyers Association, a group of bad-ass attorneys that have devoted their careers to defending the rights that make all other freedoms possible.

For my first post, I’d like to debut a great new interview I did earlier this year with author and Atlantic columnist (and FIRE Board of Advisors member) Wendy Kaminer. Wendy is a no-nonsense defender of civil liberties who shares a deep understanding of why campus censorship—the field in which I work—should concern everyone right, left, and center.

The interview includes discussion of everything from the rise of wildly broad bullying policies, to the role of pop psychology in leading to the campus-speech-codes movement, to how campus censorship interferes with opportunities for students to develop critical thinking skills (a point I hit repeatedly in my new book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. All royalties from the sale of the book go to FIRE, by the way).

I thought her point here was particularly interesting:

There is this trend towards protecting students from whatever is considered offensive or insulting or uncivil speech. And the consequence of that is that they get out into the world and they don’t know how to argue. I’m afraid we’re going to be plagued for a very long time by these mindless, stupid mindless shouting matches that now dominate our political debate.

You know, it’s one of the ironies of this drive for civility that when you label argument or any kind of offensiveness as incivility and you write all these civility codes and you discourage people from vigorously arguing or engaging in satire that makes fun of other people or makes fun of their sacred cows. The irony is that you end up encouraging incivility because people don’t know how to argue. They don’t know what to do when confronted with an idea they really don’t like. They don’t have an administrator they go complain to, and so they just shout it down because they haven’t learned how to do anything else.

Sing it, Wendy.

Both Wendy and I fully agree that civility, otherwise known as “politeness,” has some value, but it is nowhere near in value to the crucial role of debate, discussion, and candor in a free society. I think she is right when she says that attempts to force civility actually foster group polarization and what I call in my book, an unscholarly certainty about complex issues.

I encourage readers to check out Wendy’s recent column about a controversy at Harvard where, as is often the case in my experience, the campus interpreted an obvious piece of satire and social commentary to mean precisely the opposite of what it almost certainly meant (and don’t take my word for it, the experts over at Comedy Central agree, as well.

In closing, Marc suggested I just come out and ask that you support FIRE. No nonprofit works harder or gets more done with less than this little organization that punches way above its weight. Thanks again to Marc, have a happy new year, and I hope to write again after I get back from my long-delayed honeymoon in late January.

-Editor’s note – we put our money where our mouth is. I donated to FIRE this year. I urge you to as well.


Could we just have all judges watch “The Big Lebowski?”

December 26, 2012
One more time, with feeling!  -- FOR YOUR INFORMATION, THE SUPREME COURT HAS ROUNDLY REJECTED PRIOR RESTRAINT!!!!!

One more time, with feeling! — FOR YOUR INFORMATION, THE SUPREME COURT HAS ROUNDLY REJECTED PRIOR RESTRAINT!!!!!

The National Judicial College should require every judge that attends to watch The Big Lebowski. Further, every state should require a person to view it before they can assume the powers of a judge. It would result in a lot less unconstitutional orders from judges who seem to not know any better when it comes to issuing prior restraint orders.

Walter Sobchak made it pretty damn clear when he shouted “FOR YOUR INFORMATION, THE SUPREME COURT HAS ROUNDLY REJECTED PRIOR RESTRAINT!”

I mean, ’nuff said, right?

Even if you watch The Big Lebowski, you will be infected with a bit of Dudeism, which will never hurt when you are trying to judge cases.

But, more to the point of this post, if you don’t know the first thing about prior restraint, even if you never heard of Near v. Minnesota, you’d still maybe have a little intellectual curiosity about that statement, right?

And then, Public Citizen wouldn’t have to come and make you look foolish for issuing a prior restraint. (Public Citizen Blog); Brief in Dietz v. Perez)


Happy Christmas. Fuck You.

December 21, 2012

Denham Springs, Louisiana resident Sarah Childs was in a dispute with her neighbors. So she exercised her First Amendment rights and created a special holiday message just for them.

bilde

The neighbors were not happy about this and complained. A lot. And Miss Sarah fought back. Source.

I’ve composed this Christmas poem just for her.

‘Twas the month before Christmas and all through the ‘hood
The neighbors all gossiped that Sarah’s no good.
Angry and tired her response did not linger
A Holiday light show comprised of a finger.

“Outrageous! Offensive! How dare she!” They whined
They called the cops and so she was fined.
She took down the show and felt quite dejected
Until the ACLU interjected.

The attack on free speech is a thing that’s quite shitty
So Sarah fought back and they sued the city.
The cops and the mayor remained so undaunted
that Miss Sarah’s steps from then on were haunted.

“I know what we’ll do!” Said the city with glee.
“We’ll make her sorry! You wait and see!”
A citation here and a ticket there
So much to the point that it’s hard not to care.

A wonderful plan was retaliation
Until they got nailed for a rights violation.
The lights went back up this time on the double
And this for poor Sarah was nothing but trouble.

The neighbors began to snivel and wail
This time they tried to throw her in jail!
The lights came down alas one more time,
It seemed all was lost- those fiends! That slime!

But the judge took her side and told the city to suck it
That First Amendment-ain’t no way you can duck it.
And all through the town her message rang true,
“Happy Christmas to all and to all a fuck you!”


Federal Circuit’s COCKSUCKER Decision Sucks

December 20, 2012

cork soaker

As many long-time readers know, Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act is one of my pet peeves. This is the section of the Trademark Act that gives pretty much unfettered discretion to a trademark examiner to deny a trademark registration on the basis that the mark itself is “immoral” or “scandalous.” The Federal Circuit just decided In Re Fox, in which it reaffirmed some very bad law, and in which it lacked the integrity to address some Constitutional fictions upon which most 2(a) denials are based.

“[n]o trademark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it[] (a) [c]onsists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter.” 15 U.S.C. § 1052.

One of the most absurd elements of a 2(a) denial is that the evidentiary standard is so open to abuse. An examiner may prove “immorality” or “scandalousness” by simply establishing that the mark is “vulgar.” In re Boulevard Entm’t, Inc., 334 F.3d 1336, 1340 (Fed. Cir. 2003). Essentially, if the examiner finds a single online dictionary or chat board where someone says “that’s vulgar,” then that is usually enough for the examiner, the TTAB, and the Federal Circuit.

So, another 2(a) denial is just a “ho hum” event. But, this portion of the opinion shows just how little respect the Federal Circuit has for Constitutional issues. I mean, come on guys, at least try and make it look like you didn’t just mail it in.

The prohibition on “immoral . . . or scandalous” trademarks was first codified in the 1905 revision of the trademark laws, see Act of Feb. 20, 1905, Pub. L. No. 58- 84, § 5(a), 33 Stat. 724, 725. This court and its predeces- sor have long assumed that the prohibition “is not an attempt to legislate morality, but, rather, a judgment by the Congress that [scandalous] marks not occupy the time, services, and use of funds of the federal government.” In re Mavety Media Grp. Ltd., 33 F.3d 1367, 1374 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (quotation marks omitted). Because a refusal to register a mark has no bearing on the applicant’s ability to use the mark, we have held that § 1052(a) does not implicate the First Amendment rights of trade- mark applicants. See id. (Op. at 2)

I find it outrageous not just because the court is wrong, but because the court was so glib and dismissive of the First Amendment.

Trademarks propose a commercial transaction; speech that proposes a commercial transaction is “commercial speech” and thus subject to First Amendment protection. Virginia State Bd. Of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748, 762 (1976). Trademarks convey messages about the type, cost and quality of the product or service associated with the mark. See Friedman v. Rogers, 440 U. S. 1, 11 (1979). The trademark is a tightly targeted bit of expressive activity that seeks to persuade a potential customer to choose one product over another, either due to the identification of goods or to the communicative element of the trademark itself.

Thus far, all USPTO decisions regarding the constitutionality of Section 2(A) rely upon the improperly decided case In re Robert L. McGinley, 660 F.2d 41 (Fed Cir. 1981).

McGinley is where we get the idea that since trademark applicants are still free to use the trademarks, then there is no abridgment of speech if your trademark is denied registration due to its content. However, this reasoning is simply shoddy and contrary to a body of First Amendment jurisprudence. For example, in striking down New York’s “Son of Sam” law, which prohibited criminals from profiting from writing books about their crimes, the Supreme Court held “[a] statute is presumptively inconsistent with the First Amendment if it imposes a financial burden on speakers because of the content of their speech.” Simon & Schuster v. New York State Crime Victims Bd., 502 U.S. 105, 115 (1991). In the Son of Sam case, the authors were still free to write, but were denied the financial benefits of their labors. That was the end of that law. This appears to completely dispense with the McGinley reasoning.

Bad Frog Brewery, Inc. v. New York States Liquor Authority, 134 F.3d 87 (2d Cir. 1998) analyzed a similar issue. In that case, the appellant sought to use a trademark of a frog giving the finger. The Second Circuit held that since trademarks are commercial speech, prohibition on use of so-called “offensive” trademarks did not advance the stated governmental purpose of protecting children from vulgarity or promoting temperance, nor was it narrowly tailored to serve that purpose. Not binding on the Fed. Cir., but I think that the Fed. Cir. is the wrong place to challenge McGinley. There is no indication that the Fed. Cir. will ever admit that it was wrong in McGinley, and every time it gets a chance, it doubles down.

Finally, there can be no clearer authority for the death of Section 2(a) than Lawrence v. Texas. (“The fact a State’s governing majority has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice.”)

“Morality” is not a valid reason to confer or deny a governmental benefit – instead the government must articulate a reason why registration of a mark might be harmful, and then apply that reason to the particular circumstances at hand, in a narrow manner. The government has done none of this in this case, nor in any other 2(a) denial.

2(a) Delendum Est!


Sunshine is the best disinfectant – the Steubenville Rape Case

December 20, 2012

The mainstream media has noticed that something is amiss in Steubenville, Ohio. (Rape Case Unfolds on Web and Splits City).

And Jezebel gives credit where it is due — to a blogger who refused to let the story die. (We Wouldn’t Know About the Steubenville Rape Case If It Wasn’t for the Blogger Who ‘Complicated’ Things).

I won’t comment beyond my earlier post on the case, because I have been brought in to help defend the blogger.


Deadspin Weighs in on Raanan Katz Suit

December 18, 2012
FOR YOUR INFORMATION, THE SUPREME COURT HAS ROUNDLY REJECTED PRIOR RESTRAINT!!!!!

FOR YOUR INFORMATION, THE SUPREME COURT HAS ROUNDLY REJECTED PRIOR RESTRAINT!!!!!

As some of you remember, Raanan Katz sued Google and others for copyright infringement this summer over a Blogger user’s publication of an “unflattering” photograph of him.  Today, popular sports blog Deadspin has the story.

Beyond the copyright suit, the Deadspin piece goes on to discuss a Florida trial court’s order in separate, concurrent litigation that Katz has brought against the same defendant as his copyright suit. 

This is a very complicated case. You know a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous, but in particular, Deadspin addresses a decision by Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit enjoining the defendant from writing further about Katz, since what the Defendant has written thus far is “arguably defamatory.” (source.)

As Randazza is counsel of record in the case, we provide no comment beyond a link to the appellate brief in the case.


It’s a Beautiful Thing, the Destruction of Words.

December 4, 2012

First Amendment BAMF The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (“FIRE”) defends individual rights at American Colleges and Universities from the barrage of attacks on free speech and free expression. Every month, FIRE features an institution of higher learning that should be ashamed of itself for enacting a speech code that is, at best, terrible. This month’s honoree is the University of North Dakota (“UND”) for its delightfully well-written policy that defines harassment as:

[U]nacceptable behavior, which can range from violence and bullying to more subtle behavior such as ignoring an individual at work or study. It subjects an individual or a group to unwelcome attention, intimidation, humiliation, ridicule, offense or loss of privacy. It is unwanted by the recipient and continues after an objection is made.

Source.

Universities have long been thought to be the last gleaming hope of free thought and expression. It is also generally accepted that college campuses are bastions of left leaning philosophies that champion speech and expression. Imagine the shock and chagrin, then, when one discovers that UND isn’t the only member of the “liberal” American higher education system that quite possibly poses more of a threat to First Amendment rights than the government. But before you conservatives and libertarians start squealing and pointing the shame finger at the nearest hippie, sit down, shut up, and read “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate”, by First Amendment super BAMF and FIRE president Greg Lukianoff.

In his book, Lukianoff gives a very real and very scary glimpse into contemporary American academia. No longer a shining beacon of differing viewpoints and the relentless pursuit of intellectual honesty, the typical American university is a quagmire of self-serving administrative officials, apathetic faculty, and a woefully ignorant student body. Lukianoff deftly sheds light on the evolution of censorship policies that have been unilaterally enacted by weak-minded bureaucrats who want to stamp out criticism and dissent. Policies that are enforced without a glimmer of due process for the offender and without so much as a peep from the student body. Policies that may be in response to legislation at both the state and Federal level.

As someone once said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next”. If so, we’re in for a world of hurt. Unlearning Liberty is a must-read for every First Amendment defender out there. It will scare you, piss you off, and maybe even make you cry, but hopefully it will also inspire you to wake up, stand up, and speak up.


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