Why Shouting Down Speakers Is Absolutely Wrong

Wilson offers a good explanation of the position that shouting down speakers is not a form of constitutionally-protected speech. Such arguments are especially important on college campuses, where it’s the job of students to engage with new ideas — even uncomfortable ones; and the job of faculty members to equip students with the critical thinking skills they’ll need in order to recognize, and reject, fallacious arguments in the outside world after they graduate.

What is the fundamental principle behind the idea of shouting down a speaker? Is the principle that people should have the freedom to shout down those they don’t like? By that logic, white supremacist gangs should be allowed to shout down people of color whenever they try to speak. Is the principle that a big crowd of people should get to shout down those they don’t like? Obviously, bigots can form a big crowd, too. There’s no good reason why an unpopular viewpoint should be shut down. Is the principle that everyone has free speech, and therefore the right to shout down is equal to the right to speak? I’ve heard this argument before, from a conservative who told me, as he threw my newspapers in the trash, that I had the right to print a newspaper and he had the right to destroy it…. Is the principle that racists shouldn’t be allowed to speak? That may seem appealing at first. But deciding who is and isn’t a racist (and trusting the authorities to decide it) may be harder than you think. What if whites claim that anti-racist speakers are really racist against whites? What if it extends beyond race to religion and other categories? Should speakers who mock religious opposition to gay rights be banned for attacking religion? Should atheists be banned? Should critics of atheism be banned — John K Wilson, Academe