I write to comment on Whitman College Professor Elyse Semerdjian’s column on Aug. 2 titled “Blaming all Muslims for terrorism ignores the facts”, in which she takes issue with an earlier letter by Craig Buchanan.
I have a problem with the professor’s hyperbolic claim that Mr. Buchanan’s letter endangered the safety of Muslims living in Walla Walla and was an “incitement to violence,” saying that the “First Amendment does not protect speech that encourages discrimination and/or violence against individual people or groups based on their religion.”
Contrary to Professor Semerdjian’s understanding of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has set forth an “Incitement Test” in Brandenburg that states: “The constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
After reading Mr. Buchanan’s letter, I don’t believe any reasonable person would feel a compulsion to grab torch and pitchfork to commit an act of violence against a Muslim. In fact, I was unable to determine from his letter what lawless act Mr. Buchanan might have been advocating.
Professor Semerdjian also implies Mr. Buchanan’s letter represents hate speech. Once again, the Supreme Court has ruled that hate speech is permissible unless it will lead to imminent violence. I was made aware of Mr. Buchanan’s concerns, but not hatred of Muslims.
Professor Semerdjian may be more familiar with “speech codes” adopted by over 60 percent of our college campuses in the 1980s and 1990s, severely regulating speech and debate by students and faculty.
Our campuses are “vital centers of our intellectual life,” but even as academia strives for “diversity” of its ethnic makeup or other currently favored characteristics, diversity of opinion or political persuasion is increasingly restricted by what is deemed acceptable by strident advocacy groups.
Speech, ideas or debate outside those acceptable orthodoxies are prohibited, shouted down or punished. Campus speech codes are almost invariably overturned as violations of the First Amendment when they are adjudicated in state and federal courts and not in student/faculty courts.
Demonizing individuals with whom one disagrees by accusing them of engaging in “hate speech” and “incitement to violence” is unbecoming and should have no place on or off campus.