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Another Victory For Unreason

This time, at a college in London.  A Catholic speaker was prevented from giving a talk about the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality, because, yep, bigotry. Excerpt:

Mr Williams was preparing to address a busy room of students when he was approached by a representative of the Catholic Society and the student union and told he could not give a talk because the Catholic Society had failed to submit a speaker approval form.

Comments written by students on social networking websites since the cancellation have provoked concerns about freedom of speech.

Hannah Webb, the external affairs and campaigns officer for the student union, wrote on Facebook about the talk: “This was cancelled!” After she was asked how, Miss Webb replied that “their speaker hadn’t been approved so fairly easily”.

Miss Webb added that the event had been “flagged up” beforehand and “a number of us were alarmed that such a speaker had been allowed to go through the external vetting process”.

Beth Sutton, the student union’s Women’s Officer, also wrote on Twitter: “We managed to stop it [the talk] because union protocol wasn’t followed.”

Mr Williams responded on Twitter and asked if Miss Sutton would have been so concerned about protocol were it another event. She replied she would be equally concerned for events “on the boundaries of what UCLU allows and requires discussion”.

Miss Sutton had also made a Twitter appeal to her followers prior to the talk asking them to disrupt the “bigoted homophobic” event.

Mr Williams said that he was worried about the future of Catholic apologetics on campus. He said: “This experience makes me concerned for the ability of Catholic apologists and speakers to talk on university campuses.

“If student unions will ban a presentation of Catholic teaching on the specious grounds that it is ‘homophobic’ or ‘hate speech’, or merely because it might make some people feel ‘unsafe’, then this will constitute an effective censoring of the presentation of Catholic teaching (at least on sexual ethics and sexuality) in any student atmosphere.

Ah yes, our specious old friend “safety.” If progressives feel unsafe, then they are unsafe. Cher told us so (“Words are like weapons/They wound sometimes”). The reader who sent this story from London writes:

It’s the same deal as the Ray Kelly thing – radical students using the idea of speech as violence to shut down debate that they find uncomfortable, using bureaucratic regulation as a cover, and supposed
liberals either shrugging their shoulders or only issuing the most mealy-mouthed or perfunctory of criticism.

The chap who was due to speak, a Catholic apologist, is a good friend of mine, and one of the most genial and kindly of men: a true English gent. The idea of him as a hate preacher is simply bizarre. Much more hateful, in the true sense of that word, has been some of the feedback he’s received on Twitter and Facebook over this. But that’s the world we live in now, I guess.

In the Brown thread, a reader accused me of lacking empathy for the “victims” of stop-and-frisk. This is misleading in an important way. The assumption there is that if I had empathy for these people, I would have supported shutting down Ray Kelly’s speech. That I don’t support Ray Kelly’s speech means that I am morally deficient. You see how that works? You have to prove your moral worth by supporting radically illiberal tactics, or stand accused of racism, homophobia, what have you.

It is entirely possible to believe stop-and-frisk — a policy on which I have no strong opinion, because I don’t know enough about it to say; we don’t all have to have an opinion on everything — is unconstitutional and racist, and still believe that Ray Kelly has a right to make his case for it on campus. In fact, it is not only possible to believe these things, it is necessary to believe them, if we are going to respect a liberal framework for discourse that protects the free speech of both progressives and conservatives, and that makes it more likely that all of us will have the information we need to deliberate on important questions responsibly. To believe otherwise is to privilege emotion over reason, which is to yield to the mob. A mob is a mob is a mob, whether they are left-wingers on an Ivy League campus, or right-winger elsewhere — and a mob is always and everywhere an enemy of civilization.

It is alarming that the people in charge of these institutions of higher learning lack the spine to understand what is at stake in these disputes, and stand up for the right of speakers who present opinions that may be unpopular to be heard. This does not mean that everyone has a moral right to be heard everywhere at all times. But it does mean that the bias ought to be towards more and greater speech, and if an institution does choose to allow a speaker to come to campus, no matter what his cause or opinion, that institution has a solemn obligation to protect him and his ability to state his opinion without threat or disruption. To fall short of that is to capitulate to the forces of unreason — that is, the mob.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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