April 23rd, 2010

Freedom of Hate

Freedom of Hate

The culture of academic enlightenment sunk to an all-time low this past week when none other than Maggie Gallagher -- yes, the president of the National Organization for Marriage -- was invited to speak at Cornell's Law School.

For those who haven't heard, Ms. Gallagher and NOM have comprised one of the most visible and vocal proponents of the Bigotry that Dare not Speak its Name, i.e. the fading vestiges of a bygone era, attempting to mask their anti-gay discriminatory delusions beneath an unconvincing veneer of faux-constitutionality and reactionary traditionalism.

Of course, even while these rigid-minded holdouts are among the last of a dying breed and full marriage equality is an inevitable eventuality, NOM and others of their ilk are still a thorn in the side of fair-minded rational progress, and their narrow-minded views contribute to harm and marginalization at all levels of society. Their mindless, hateful prattle has very real consequences which must be dealt with.

Any attempts to frame the struggle over marriage equality as a "debate" are, of course, entirely specious, as there is no debate; it's a battle of intolerant bigotry versus, well, reality. Giving a platform to Ms. Gallagher is tantamount to putting a petulant, tantrum-throwing child in the media spotlight and acting as though (s)he has something worthwhile to contribute to our national discourse. It lends an air of legitimacy to that which is intrinsically illegitimate.

Granted, it was a conservative organization (The Federalist Society) that invited MG to speak at Cornell, which sadly is no surprise. However, for Cornell's administration to permit such an event to occur on university grounds is heinously irresponsible, and no better than if they permitted an official event at which some white supremacist advocated for the return of slavery, or at which some paternalistic misogynist argued against women's suffrage and equal pay. How do you suppose that would go over in this day and age?

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of confusion over the true extent of what is guaranteed by freedom of speech. Yes, people are free to express their views, no matter how horrible; but no private entity is obligated to provide a forum for that expression, nor facilitate it in any way. And while it's true that Cornell is partly a public institution -- which may muddy the free speech issue in ways that I admit are beyond my understanding of the underlying legalities -- it's also partly private; and to my knowledge, the Law School is one of the private units of the university.

Ultimately, this has nothing to do with free speech or fair access. In the case of a legitimate debate, that might be more the case; but in this matter, it's about doing the right thing.

In any case, if it does indeed fall within the purview of Cornell's discretion to exercise control over the use of its facilities on ethical grounds -- as would seem to be the case -- I believe the university administration would agree on principle that it is within the scope of its moral obligations to avoid legitimizing intolerance and hate, by declining to provide a forum to those who espouse it.

I would strongly suggest that in the future, they view cultural aberrations like Maggie Gallagher through a more informed historical context, and recognize her platform as the hatred-inciting bigoted sham that it is.