Los Angeles Times wades into latest SoCal thicket on campus political speech

California has been one of flashpoints in political-correctness-on-campus controversies for many years. One that made it to the US Supreme Court was Christian Legal Society v. Hastings,  a 2009 case that ruled against a CLS chapter at the University of California/Hastings that required its leaders to live according to the chapter’s core religious beliefs. One of those beliefs was a prohibition against extramarital sex; a stricture that gay students found offensive, hence the lawsuit. GetReligion covered that here and here.

Another was a flap at UC Irvine where a group of Muslim student protesters in 2010 disrupted a speech by the Israeli ambassador. Others objected to the punishment meted out to those students. And earlier this year, several student government leaders at UCLA questioned a Jewish student’s eligibility for a campus judicial panel on the grounds that she could not be expected to be impartial. Also this year, the UC Irvine student government voted to ban all flags -- including the American flag –- from a section of campus.

Thus, it wasn’t a big surprise to read the next salvo in this war in the Los Angeles Times:

On the eve of what is expected to be a contentious debate over a proposed new UC policy statement on bias and free speech, the head of the UC regents board defended what are called “principles against intolerance" on Wednesday.
Regents chairwoman Monica Lozano said the proposed principles, which condemn ethnic, religious and gender bias, “reflect the university’s core values of respect, inclusion, academic freedom and a free and open exchange of ideas."…
(A draft of the principles) includes a “non-exhaustive list” of behaviors it says “do not reflect the university’s values of inclusion and tolerance.”
Among those are vandalism and graffiti with symbols of hate, including swastikas and nooses; questioning a student’s fitness for a leadership role based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender and other factors; and depicting ethnic or racial groups as less ambitious, less talented or more threatening than others.

What got my attention was this phrase: questioning a student’s fitness for a leadership role based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender and other factors. That could include everything from one’s stance on Israel to homosexuality.

I know the story was a short one but there were a ton of religion ghosts worth drawing out in that one sentence alone.

The Times did a follow-up two days later announcing there was so much blow-back on these “principles” that the UC regents were going “back to the drawing board.” The idea, the article said, was “to craft stronger and more specific policies that would protect academic freedom and yet condemn intolerance against any group.”

Good luck with that.

A similar -- and clearer -- story in the Sacramento Bee points out that the original statement didn't specifically mention anti-Semitism as forbidden behavior; hence the opposition.

Meanwhile, the Times reporter began the piece by noting how UC Berkeley was the center of the Free Speech Movement 51 years ago, yet today it can’t agree on what free speech is. I wish the question had been raised about whether anti-Semitic speech is the only speech on campus deemed offensive on religious grounds. Surely other groups have been maligned as well.

Or, as one of the commentators suggested, are Jewish students asking the impossible; that Israeli alone should remain uncriticized whereas other people and institutions representing everything from Mormons to Muslims get slapped about? And is it only “hate speech” when the object is culturally liberal but not so when the target is conservative?

It seems that whatever these regents come up with is going to offend someone. Near the end of the story, Sen. Dianne Feinstein's insistence that all anti-Semitism be crushed is set against that of the Palestinian organization that wants open debate about Israel.

This was not an easy story to write and the reporter is commendable for making the issues as clear as possible. I wish he had connected the dots of the current fracas with the issues brought up in Martinez. That is, what happens when some peoples' freedoms snacks up with other peoples' freedoms? Under the First Amendment, can you be intolerant of those you consider intolerant? I'm guessing the University of California cannot answer those questions these days.

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