Faculty members at the University of Virginia (UVA) spoke out in defense of free speech Tuesday after a student’s protest against former Vice President Mike Pence’s planned appearance drew support from the school newspaper calling their “speech-is-violence” argument wrong and a direct contradiction to the “letter and the spirit of the First Amendment.”
After the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) announced plans that they had invited Pence to speak on campus April 12, a lesbian student named Elizabeth Bass wrote an opinion piece for The Cavalier Daily where she recognized “that conservatives have the freedom to speak their opinions,” but felt Pence’s opinions should not be welcome on campus.
By her assessment, the “notoriously homophobic” Pence reinforced a climate that had made her uncomfortable and consider suicidal thoughts. Days later, the editorial board for the Cavalier doubled down on the silencing of the former vice president.
“The University’s silence is deafening,” they wrote. “Do not mistake this for neutrality, however. To be silent in the face of those like Pence is a choice – in this case, a choice to fail to protect the lives of those on Grounds who Pence blatantly threatens through his rhetoric and policies,” as they libeled Pence as a “homophobic, racist and transphobic politician.”
“The Cavalier Daily’s Editorial Board does not condone platforming an individual that not only denies the existence of our diverse community, but participates in the violent rhetoric that perpetuates harm against these individuals,” they added as they removed any outlet for communication other than the approved narrative. Rhetoric is violence and silence is not neutral in the editorial board’s estimation.
Members of the UVA’s faculty would not stand idly by in the face of such absurdity. Publishing an op-ed of their own, they wrote, “This speech-is-violence argument is not only wrong – no calls for violence will be issued April 12 – but also contradict the letter and the spirt of the First Amendment, which generally creates space for a wide range of views to be expressed so long as the relevant speech does not incite violence.”
“It is also a disservice to those who are the victims of actual violence,” the faculty added, pointing to those who struggled for civil rights, died protecting our Constitution and even those dying for freedom in Ukraine who wish to speak their minds.
The faculty did not rest there as the 17 signees, who represented a wide range of studies at the university founded by President Thomas Jefferson, called out the hypocrisy of the editorial board. It saddened them to find the board assumed “that the editors should enjoy the freedom to say what they want but others with whom they disagree should not.”
“The First Amendment protects not just those whose views the editors deem harmless. Those of us who support free speech do so, in part, because, in a democratic society, none of us can see the whole truth and all of us benefit from being exposed to perspectives that may comprehend some aspect of the truth better than we do,” they added.
The University officials supported the faculty and YAF on this position stating, in part, “freedom of speech is among the most powerful tools by which wrongs are righted and institutions are improved or abolished,” as they argued for “critical examination of the past” and a “shared commitment to free expression for all speakers and all views.”
Rather than silence his voice, Illiana Lievanos wrote for YAF, “If students like Bass feel triggered or disagree with what Mike Pence has to say, there is a simple solution: don’t attend the event. Or even better–take part in the open Q&A portion of the event. Just because someone disagrees with another’s opinion, it doesn’t give them the right to shut down the free speech of the VP and ruin the event for students who want to hear what Pence has to say.”
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