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Error Has No Academic Freedom

UVA law professor Douglas Laycock has defended the right of same-sex couples to marry. But he also defends religious liberty, and that has some gay activists trying to shut him down, on the grounds that haters are making use of some of his arguments. They’ve filed a Freedom Of Information Act request demanding to see records of his phone calls and e-mails to thought criminals religious conservatives. Slate’s (quite liberal) legal correspondent Dahlia Lithwick thinks this is stupid and dangerous — and it’s something that conservative activists have done too, e.g., in the case of climate scientist Michael Mann. Excerpt:

In both Mann’s and Laycock’s cases, the practical effects of all this will be nothing. Both have been lightning rods for a long time. But the impact on academic institutions, on younger faculty, and on the very idea of open discourse is more serious. A smear campaign is a smear campaign, regardless of whether it’s couched in the language of transparency and tolerance.

The effort to intimidate or—more charitably—“educate” professor Laycock is misdirected toward an academic career that has been protective of gay rights and gay marriage and only, in the two instances cited, collides with them through a larger vision of religious liberty. The groups who don’t like that anti-LGBT movements get intellectual cover from Laycock’s legal arguments are free to say so, loudly, passionately, and publicly. But using a FOIA request to try to get dirt on him, to imply that he is doing something unsavory with those groups, is simply a smear tactic with no objective beyond embarrassing and chilling that work. Nobody is claiming that legal academics are untouchable. But academic freedom isn’t something you want to mess with recreationally either.

Yes, this. It can’t be said often enough these days.

[H/T: Prufrock, the free daily newsletter to which you should subscribe, now.]

UPDATE:Walter Russell Mead comments on the anti-Laycock campaign:

This is the new principle of campus free speech: Not only do you have to have the right views, but you cannot produce research that could be used by those with the wrong views.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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