EDITORIAL: Northwestern professor makes her case for abolishing the First Amendment free speech protections

The left’s growing antipathy toward free speech and expression has been on full display at various colleges across the country. But lest anyone dismiss the phenomenon as the work of misguided or coddled millennials, consider a recent commentary in the Los Angeles Times from one of the adults on campus.

Under the heading, “We regulate slander. Why not hate speech?,” Laura Beth Neilsen, a sociology professor at Northwestern, lays out her case for abolishing the First Amendment so as to shield “marginalized groups” from offensive words. Her rationale would make Stalin smile and offers a case study in the willingness of leftist intellectuals to embrace authoritarianism and tyranny in their quest to impose “justice” and create a progressive utopia.

Ms. Neilsen argues that “empirical data” show that those subjected to negative verbal harassment — which she characterizes as “racist hate speech” — are at high risk for whole host of mental and physical issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, high blood pressure and anxiety. Why they may even become susceptible to “cigarette smoking.”

As a result, she writes, “hate speech is not ‘just speech.’ Hate speech is doing something. It results in tangible harms that are serious in and of themselves and that collectively amount to the harm of subordination. … Instead of characterizing racist and sexist hate speech as ‘just speech,’ courts and legislatures need to account for this research and, perhaps, allow the restriction of hate speech as do all of the other economically advanced democracies in the world.”

A precise definition of “hate speech” is noticeably missing from the good professor’s patronizing essay. So, too, are the potential punishments for those who dare stray beyond the bounds of approved left-wing decorum. The gulag, perhaps? Re-education camp? Ms. Neilsen at least acknowledges that many people will find her “line of thinking repellent.” At least she got something right.

We’ll save the defense of the Bill of Rights and open discourse for another day. Some things are self evident. But make no mistake: Attacks on the First Amendment have reached a fevered pitch and promoters of liberty and freedom must be deadly serious about confronting this dangerous development.

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