Gonzaga panel debates hate speech/ free speech
A panel of Gonzaga faculty responded to a presentation by Nadine Stossen, of the New York Law School, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union and author of HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship.
The event was held on Oct. 12 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Gonzaga University Institute for Hate Studies.
"There are tensions between free speech and concerns about the wellbeing of people. Because freedom of speech and human rights go hand in hand, the best way to counter hate is robust free speech," Nadine said in a video-streamed speech.
She contends that laws are not only ineffective in countering hate and discrimination, but also counter-productive.
According to a report by the Committee to Eliminate Racism and Discrimination (CERD), laws to suppress hate speech do not do any good. They are often enforced against voices and views intended to be protected by laws.
"Stereotypes, prejudice and bias are demonic in criminal justice. Enforcing hate speech laws is inherently subjective," said the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. "CERD said counter speech is more likely effective in reducing hate speech."
Nadine gave examples of counter speech:
• The chant in Charlotte, "Jews will not replace us," was drowned by college students raising their voices to denounce hatred and work for a more just society.
• Recently some people have invited hate-group leaders to sit down to dinner with them, redeeming/changing them.
Three forms of counter-speech that drown out hate speech are persuasion, support for victims and apologies.
Panelists responding to her presentation were Luke Lavin, director of mission and ministry at Gonzaga University; George Critchlow, Gonzaga Law School professor emeritus; Joan Iva Fawcett, assistant dean of diversity, inclusion, community and equity, and Vikas Gumbhir, associate professor of criminal justice.
Luke offered an overview of the Ignatian call to stand against hate with love. He said that when the Jesuits formed at the University of Paris, they began with the understanding that humans are made good in the image of a good God.
"We are gifts of God, so we know God. We suppose every good person presupposes good. If we are in error, we can correct each other with kindness," he said. "A Jesuit university operates by practicing free speech and giving free space for dialogue.
"If another interpretation bothers us, we are to act first as listeners. We are to be active in civic life: vote, debate, write, examine and advocate. We are to practice discernment, knowing God is good, holy and true and at work for society."
Luke said discernment is between two goods, creating tension that is a healthy sign of growth. Discernment at the civic level requires free speech, even when people have radical differences.
"We are to be contemplatives in action," Luke said.
George, who studied and taught at Gonzaga's Law School, said, "We all live in tension in our personal and political lives as culture is in transition."
He favors restricting some hate speech, based on the Constitution and legal traditions that evolved over history: "We punish libel, slander and falsehoods. We restrict speech if it harms, such as child pornography, words that promote violence or shouting, "FIRE!" in a crowded theater," he said.
"The notion of harm takes into account a clear and present danger that calls us to protect society," he said. "International treaties allow and compel repression of hate speech that hurts a group of people.
He said speech was bad enough in the Nazi era, before the Internet, which can be used to educate in a positive way but can also manipulate, create fear, intimidate, perpetuate myths and falsehoods, libel entire groups and discourage people from participating in society because of their race, religion, culture or gender identity.
"I don't agree with Nadine that the only response to hate speech is more speech," he said. "We may need to adapt our constitutional framework, it may be okay to tell a violent crazy racist to shut up!"
Joan Iva learned about tension over free speech in two years as interim dean of students at the University of California at Berkeley. As she supported students, she learned free speech has a cost, often hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some underrepresented students who felt at risk because of words and photos holed up in a building and needed protection as gun violence broke out between protest groups.
At Sonoma State University, she cautioned a student newspaper against using the "N" word, saying there are limits to free speech.
When a controversial speaker some considered a terrorist came to Whittier College, faculty and students formed a human barricade to escort students to the event.
Joan Iva was born in the Philippines and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s, when she was young. During high school, her mother performed in a choir for a Filipino Festival. A school director closed the curtain to stop the event. Her father wrote an opinion article in a Filipino newspaper, challenging that action. He and the newspaper were sued for libel. They tried to settle out of court, but four years and thousands of dollars later, a judge ruled in her father's favor and called the libel suit "frivolous." Because of it, her parents were in turmoil during her college years.
"Free speech is not free," she said. "It cost my parents financially and emotionally.
"Free speech is a treasure. We should not take it for granted. We should use it, but there are limits to using it," Joan Iva said.
Believing faculty are to educate students to engage in dialogue, she said it's not free speech vs. hate speech, but the need for free speech to be responsible speech.
Vikas brought a sociological perspective to the discussion, distinguishing between troubles and issues.
"We all have troubles—like managing debts and commitments. We all have personal problems," he said. "There are also issues, which are the socio-political landscape or backdrop. For example, one unemployed person has troubles, but if millions of people are unable to find work for a fair wage, that's an issue."
The challenge and promise of sociology is seeing common threads between biography and history, and finding ways to coalesce around socio-political and socio-economic issues, he explained.
"Hate speech is inexorably linked to violence—lynching, violence against women in the society and culture, violence against people who are incarcerated and the culture that supports the death penalty even though it's applied disproportionately to those on society's edges," Vikas said.
He noted that the State Supreme Court just ended the death penalty because it is imposed in an arbitrary, racially biased way.
"We need to address hate and hate speech that threaten institutions and legitimize violence by the state," he said. "It touches lives of many on the receiving end of hate speech."
"To think of hate speech vs. free speech blinds us," he said, especially blinding people to the pain of people of color.
"It's not enough to drown hate speech with our voices. We must dismantle the institution of hate that victimizes people, Vikas said. "Never let attention wane from the violence so many in society drown in."
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November, 2018