Monday, April 20, 2015

Free Speechifyin' At Valdosta State: Update

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

All you conservatives and libertarians who worry about the Second and Fourth Amendment's survival have even more to worry about. The First is in trouble, too, no more so than where it should be virtually sacred. That would be universities and colleges. My last essay touched on this, in the context of the institutions protecting their fragile charges from the psychological violence of upsetting ideas--or, really, any ideas--that might be encountered between hookups,  beer pong and drug appreciation seminars. The latest example comes from Valdosta State University, a third-tier school whose administrators deployed the campus police to prevent a dangerous incident of free expression. 

The full story, such as it is, is linked above. In summary, a female USAF veteran (she's not labelled a student, so I assume she's not) named Michelle Manhart approached a group of demonstrators who were making a point about something or other by walking on an American flag. There's no statement from the protestors about their grievance, but in case you missed it in grade school civics, this action represents extreme disrespect for the flag and the country. Ms. Manhart, offended, took the flag away. This prompted the campus police to arrest Manhart and return the flag to the protesters. Manhart then "resisted arrest," presumably by struggling to get the flag back.* The upshot was that Manhart was issued a criminal trespass warning, which means she can't go back on campus and will miss football, graduation, 420 festivals, The Vagina Monologues, and other sources of intellectual discourse.

Reason magazine picked up the story and someone named Robby Soave wrote in praise of VSU for standing up for free speech. All you knee-jerk libertarians applauding out there, let's wait a minute. Oddly for people trying to make a point, the protestors declined to identify themselves, their group, or the object of their protest. Some overheard remarks suggested they were protesting "racism," plausible because everyone in the linked photo above was black. But why not say so? Why not make their arguments the way their grandparents did fifty years ago? You know, during that civil rights era, when it was worth your life to protest. In fact, it's not known if these kids were even VSU students; if not, they had no more right to be on the campus---but no less---than Manhart did.

It's accepted that actions may be a form of speech. Drama, dance, "performance art," hell, even porn. So, fine, walking on the flag, like burning it, is protected speech. But if actions are a form of speech, why isn't Manhart's action protected? Call what she did "nonverbal debate." She---one woman, remember---didn't offer violence to the group of several young men, she just walked up and took the flag off the ground. Here's the video: 
It suggests to me that in the course of promoting a particularly perverted form of "diversity" the VSU administration is very selective about whose First Amendment rights get protection.

Here's a suggestion: Let some VSU students, or even ordinary Valdosta residents, hold a counterdemonstration. They could parade with a flag, sing "America the Beautiful,"
"God Bless America," maybe even "The Star-Spangled Banner." Let veterans wear their uniforms. Or they could make an ISIS flag and trample it. Walk their dogs on it. That'd be especially offensive to Middle Easterners with jihadi sympathies. Oh, and finally, maybe some men could take part. There are some men in Valdosta, aren't there?

* A word of praise is due the VSU police. They didn't hurt her. If it'd been the NYPD or the Baltimore PD she might be dead now.


  1. Like you Jack, I was a bit confused as to the purpose of the demonstration. Our veteran did the counter demonstration disrupting the kids at play. I am doubt that there are enough students there with enough life experience or depth of thought to make a stand for our heritage and culture. :-(

  2. "Or they could make an ISIS flag and trample it. Walk their dogs on it."
    I like that idea.


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