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"Intentionally Putting a Negative Spin on Islam" -- Flabbergasting!

Apropos the Tufts University's prohibition on blasphemy, the Tufts Daily has this quote:

The [Muslim Student Association] joined the case after the publication of an April 11 item in the Source saying that Islam is a violent religion. "We have to take it seriously," said junior Shirwac Mohamed, the MSA co-chair who will represent the organization at today's hearing. He said that many Muslim students, even those not normally active in MSA, have complained about the item.

"I looked at the article and was flabbergasted," he said. "It's intentionally putting a negative spin on Islam."

My first reaction was — welcome to America: We're allowed to intentionally put a negative spin on religion here, just as we're allowed to criticize any other ideology. There should be nothing flabbergasting about open debate in America, debate which doesn't assume that any religious belief is sacrosanct.

But I guess the joke is on me, because welcome to Tufts: A university panel (consisting mostly of faculty members) has concluded that in fact Tufts does not allow "attitudes or opinions that are expressed verbally or in writing" that create a "hostile environment" through "unreasonable attacks based on [students'] religion." Or at least that's so when, in the commitee members' views, the criticisms of religion somehow manage to avoid "promoting political or social discourse"; somehow "putting a negative spin of Islam," which I would have thought is a form of political or social discourse, doesn't actually promote such discourse.

So, my apologies, Mr. Mohamed: You're right to be flabbergasted when people "intentionally put[] a negative spin of Islam," when you're in Tufts' No Unreasonable Anti-Religious Attitudes Or Opinions Zone.

Felix Sulla (mail):

We're allowed to intentionally put a negative spin on religion here, just as we're allowed to criticize any other ideology.

Theoretically, Professor Volokh. In practice between the PC left (which I imagine is the origin of the Tufts incident) and the religious right, criticism of religion as a practical matter in this country is non-existent, or else treated as a freakish and censure-worthy spectacle when it dares to rear its head. Try arguing for (or even admitting to being) an atheist in any public and many private forums Alabama. The backlash will likely cause whatever Tufts does to pale in significance.
5.11.2007 4:01pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
This is all of Bush's fault. None of this happened before he came around. No one insulted Islam, no one was afraid to admit to being an atheist, and we were all flying kites and singing Kumbaya.

Seriously, I am one of those "evil right-wing Christian conservatives" and I know quite a few atheists. You know what? I don't care, and they don't care that I attend church every Sunday. I think if we took a camera to Alabama and screamed outside of a church on Sunday morning that we were atheists, no one would care because they would be more concerned with beating the crowds to the Cracker Barrel.
5.11.2007 4:06pm
Avi Cohen (mail):
"My first reaction was -- welcome to America: We're allowed to intentionally put a negative spin on religion here, just as we're allowed to criticize any other ideology."

I see so why in your so enlightened country is anti-semitism a crime? Surely that is an intentional negative spin on religion?

Putting a negative spin on Islam is acceptable, putting a negative spin on Judaism or Christianity means you lose state funding and are possibly jailed. Double standard or what?

Imagine the outcry if other religions were labelled violent. I suppose those loveable Settlers are so Ghandi-esque! I suppose those good ole Christian soldiers were so pacifist!

You response is what is ludicrous and crass.
5.11.2007 4:12pm
Felix Sulla (mail):
Brian G: Thanks for you input. Spent much time in Alabama, then?
5.11.2007 4:17pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Mr. Cohen: I must have missed something. I study First Amendment law, and I like to think I follow it pretty carefully, but I've never heard of anti-Semitism (in the sense of anti-Semitic speech) being made a crime. In fact, the courts have expressly said that racist speech and anti-Semitic speech are constitutionally protected.

Likewise, I've never heard of anyone being jailed in America (since the 1800s) for "putting a negative spin on Judaism or Christianity." Nor can one lose state funding for such speech under a generally available funding program (though when the government chooses which speech to engage in itself, to fund as its own expression, or in some measure to fund through a program that involves case-by-case quality judgments, it has more power to decline to fund speech it dislikes).

Might you enlighten us about exactly what incidents you're referring to?
5.11.2007 4:20pm
Waldensian (mail):
Tufts is private, right? Why should we care if they have absurd restrictions on speech?

Come to think of it, I think it's actually important for us to protect Tufts' right to behave in such an idiotic manner.
5.11.2007 4:20pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Avi Cohen:

You seem to be mis-informed. Anti-semitism in this country is not a crime. In fact, it seems to be encouraged on many university campuses under the guise of one form or another of opposition to the existence of Israel.

I've never heard of anyone in this country being jailed for speaking negatively of Christianity or Judaism. Perhaps you can cite an example and enlighten me.
5.11.2007 4:24pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Seriously, I am one of those "evil right-wing Christian conservatives" and I know quite a few atheists. You know what? I don't care, and they don't care that I attend church every Sunday. I think if we took a camera to Alabama and screamed outside of a church on Sunday morning that we were atheists, no one would care because they would be more concerned with beating the crowds to the Cracker Barrel.


That's been pretty much my experience as a (former) atheist (now agnostic). Most religious people (about 90 plus percent of my fellow citizens) don't seem to care what people outside their family believe unless they are participating in any sort of evangelical outreach. And even then it's usually limited to handing out copies of the respective religious books or promoting messages like "Jesus loves you" in the hopes of persuading people to join them. Which is sort of how having a society that values religious freedom is supposed to work.

As far as there not being any public criticism of religion in the United States, what alternate reality is he living in? American popular culture is decidedly hostile to the religious values that are embraced by the overwhelming majority of American citizens. Television and movies that show mainstream religions in a popular light are the exception rather than the rule.

As far as treating it as "freakish and censure-worthy spectacle," I don't believe for a minute that is true (although "freak" seems a generous description of the most prominent public proponents of atheism), but even if it were true, so what? So the 90 plus percent of Americans who believe in God and the 80 plus percent that participate in organized religious activities don't agree with a few whiny malcontents who think they're being "oppressed" by people who aren't doing a thing to stop them from believing in whatever it is that they believe.

Grow the frack up.
5.11.2007 4:31pm
Felix Sulla (mail):

although "freak" seems a generous description of the most prominent public proponents of atheism

You truly have no sense of the irony of this statement, do you?
5.11.2007 4:34pm
Waldensian (mail):

although "freak" seems a generous description of the most prominent public proponents of atheism

You've gotta name some names -- whom are we talking about here?
5.11.2007 4:38pm
Gideon Kanner (mail):
Could it be Avi Cohen is putting us on? Is it possible that anyone expressing himself on this subject in this forum has never heard of the litigation that ensued from the Nazis' Skokie march and the judicial holding that their open expressions of virulent anti-Semitism are protected by the First Amendment?

Possibly possible. But I don't think so. The tipoff is his phrase "your so enlightened country." "Your" country? Which country is yours, Avi?
5.11.2007 4:43pm
pct:
Oddly enough, Daniel Dennett of Tufts
http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/incbios/dennettd/dennettd.htm

has been putting a highly negative spin on religion in general for some time, and yet has escaped discipline.
Maybe it helps to be a university professor.
5.11.2007 4:48pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Newdow
5.11.2007 4:52pm
Felix Sulla (mail):

Oddly enough, Daniel Dennett of Tufts
http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/incbios/dennettd/dennettd.htm

has been putting a highly negative spin on religion in general for some time, and yet has escaped discipline.
Maybe it helps to be a university professor.

Well, Dennett tends to make general arguments against religion rather than specific attacks on any one, but yes, I do view the dichotomy there as hypocritical.
5.11.2007 4:56pm
Houston Lawyer:
I assume that Tufts can be made to follow the rules applicable to public universities if Bob Jones can. I believe the tie-in was accepting students who received federal grants or loans.
5.11.2007 4:56pm
CEB:
Count me among those utterly baffled by Avi Cohen's comment. Could it be that by "[Prof. Volohk's] so enlightened country" he means Russia? I don't know anything about religious attitudes in Russia, so I don't know if that would make sense. And are the "settlers" American settlers? Jewish settlers?


the most prominent public proponents of atheism

Richard Dawkins?, Daniel Dennet? Not freaks.

Michael Newdow? Not a freak, just an asshole. As an atheist, I wish he would STFU, we have bad enough PR as it is.


(former) atheist (now agnostic)

"Agnostic" is such a weasel word--you either believe in God or you don't.
5.11.2007 5:10pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
I assume that Tufts can be made to follow the rules applicable to public universities if Bob Jones can. I believe the tie-in was accepting students who received federal grants or loans.


Which rules (statute, case law) are those?
5.11.2007 5:11pm
Antonio Manetti (mail):
Avi Cohen:

I see so why in your so enlightened country is anti-semitism a crime? Surely that is an intentional negative spin on religion?

I'm not a lawyer, but I believe, strictly speaking, anti-semitism in the US is only illegal when manifested in a discriminatory way that violates civil rights law. Such laws do not single out anti-semitism per se, but apply to all races and religions.
5.11.2007 5:11pm
Felix Sulla (mail):
Thorley: I would be very interested to know what you mean by being a former atheist and a current agnostic. Those terms have both commonly held definitions and precise definitions. (Actually, multiples of both.)
5.11.2007 5:13pm
JumboLoveMatch:
This sort of thing is not new at Tufts. A couple years ago the same publication pointed out that the Arab Students Association website linked to a site selling "Death to Israel" pins under the heading "Palestinian Solidarity items". When the Primary Source pointed this out and challenged them to remove the link the magazine was accused of inciting racial hatred!
5.11.2007 5:17pm
Felix Sulla (mail):
I agree with CEB: Newdow is a blowhard, but hardly a freak. Nor is it anything approaching "proof" of your claim to call one person a freak.
5.11.2007 5:19pm
AndyM (mail):
" We're allowed to intentionally put a negative spin on religion here, just as we're allowed to criticize any other ideology."

Actually, it is illegal in many places. While I'd certainly hope that the law gets struck down if anyone tries to enforce it, in Massachusetts blasphemy is against the law.

MGL, Chapter 272, Section 36: "Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment...."

I'm pretty sure Allah wasn't the God they were thinking of when they wrote that, but still, there was some reproaching of god involved, and definitely some exposing to contempt and ridicule somewhere in there.

Here's the link to the relevant portion of the laws of the great state that Tufts is in, in case you want to read the blasphemy law in its entirety (clipped off the punishment section when quoting above), or if you want to browse the generally goofy chapter 272...

http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/272-36.htm
5.11.2007 5:20pm
KeithK (mail):

Tufts is private, right? Why should we care if they have absurd restrictions on speech?

Come to think of it, I think it's actually important for us to protect Tufts' right to behave in such an idiotic manner.


Tufts may have a right to have absurd restrictions on speech (I think they do and should). But that doesn't mean I shouldn't condemn the University for it's stupidity when they apply their absurd rules.
5.11.2007 5:21pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Newdow is much closer to being the public face of atheism than Dawkins or Dennet (or Christopher Hitchens). Tom Leykis (widely syndicated radio host) may be the single most prominent public face. While I would apply CEB's characterization of Newdow to both Newdow and Leykis, it's not really a productive point to argue (it's not as if the terms have specific meanings to measure the men against).

Tufts: You have the right to free speech, as long as we think it's good speech.

Nick
5.11.2007 5:27pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Well, if Tufts has this (obnoxious) rule, then I can't fault Mr. Mohamed for seeking to apply it.
5.11.2007 5:34pm
SP:
"Try arguing for (or even admitting to being) an atheist in any public and many private forums Alabama. The backlash will likely cause whatever Tufts does to pale in significance."

This is, of course, irrelevant to the Professor's post, and not particularly true. Can you cite any actual examples of this bigotry? Or the fact that there's no proof of it is proof of it?
5.11.2007 5:37pm
Felix Sulla (mail):

Newdow is much closer to being the public face of atheism than Dawkins or Dennet (or Christopher Hitchens).

Even assuming this is true (and I do not concede that, Dawkins in particular has gained a much higher profile recently), there is a larger point, namely, how exactly does one become the "public face" of atheism? The answer in the case of Newdow is by a media circus revolving around him serving as fodder for a whole lot of people to moan and moan about what dicks atheists are. In short, the "public face" argument begs the question: they become the "public face" of atheism through negative publicity directed solely at their atheism. Which sells a lot better than, "Daniel Dennett is a great philosopher and an atheist," or "Penn Jillette is a great comedian, magician, libertarian and an atheist."
5.11.2007 5:42pm
Michael B (mail):
Tufts, reminiscent of the professional academics and administrators at Durham. "Professional" denoting they get paid for what they do, without suggesting anything about the quality or integrity of their work.

Not that this state of affairs is limited to Tufts and Duke.
5.11.2007 5:51pm
Felix Sulla (mail):
SP: Um. How about my own extensive personal experience being a longtime resident of Alabama and a lifelong Southerner, including but not limited to: having been employed by and worked with more religious people than I could begin to count; having dated them; having socialized with them; having in fact argued these things in public and in private and been penalized (overtly or covertly) for same? I have met literally dozens of people who have not known I am an atheist (I had the good sense not to have it tattooed on my forehead when I abandoned Catholicism), and made disparaging and/or frankly bigoted comments about atheists. The polling numbers quite clearly show that a homosexual would be elected as President before an atheist. I could go on, but if you honestly think there is no "atheism penalty" in this country, you are living in a fantasy version of it.

And it's not irrelevant, I made the point in connection with the fact that there is an extensive taboo in all areas of America connected with frank criticism of religion, whether in the specific ("Islam is a violent faith") or the general ("All religion is violent."). The manifestation differs depending on geography, context, etc., but it is real.
5.11.2007 5:51pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Newdow is much closer to being the public face of atheism than Dawkins or Dennet (or Christopher Hitchens).


I think it's largely true that in the public eye, the most prominent proponents of atheism aren't authors on the lecture circuit who most people will never hear about -- it's the ones who file lawsuits going after the pledge of allegiance, nativity scenes, bibles in public libraries, and invocations at school graduations. Or the cretins who think they're being clever trying to suggest that there is no meaningful difference between evangelical Christianity and Islam. It's usually only when an evangelical atheist tries to get the court to intercede in a way that is going to be (rightfully) seen as an attack on traditional mores and institutions or goes out of their way to insult the beliefs of 80-90 plus percent of the public that the theistic majority really takes notice.
5.11.2007 5:55pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'Actually, it is illegal in many places.'

Including, to my surprise, California, where a man who dissed Scientology got 6 months.
5.11.2007 5:58pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
AndyM: I'm pleased to report that the statutes you point to are unconstitutional; those sorts of statutes were indeed upheld by state courts in the 19th century, and were sometimes enforced, but under modern First Amendment law they are clearly unenforceable.
5.11.2007 6:00pm
Birdman2 (mail):
For those who profess to be baffled by the difference between atheism and agnosticism, it's so straightforward and well-known that your skepticism isn't credible. A theist believes there is a God (of a particular type). An atheist believes there is no God. And agnostic says he or she doesn't know and so has neither of those two beliefs.

Is it raining? You don't have to "either believe it is or believe it isn't." You can -- if you're indoors, for example -- just be agnostic and say you don't know.

If you're suggesting that agnosticism about the existence of a God isn't intellectually respectable, you have an extremely cramped view of what's intellectually respectable.
5.11.2007 6:01pm
Felix Sulla (mail):
Birdman2: True as far as it goes, but hardly comprehensive or universally acknowledged. I find all three terms to be frequently misused, and without proper understanding, even correct usage can be misleading. For example, strictly speaking I am an agnostic because I do not claim to have definitive knowledge as to the existence of any deity. However, I find the evidence for any kind of deity to be so paltry and the odds against there being one so remote that I am for practical purposes an atheist, and describe myself as such so that I do not mislead anyone as to my beliefs or cause unnecessary confusion.

Furthermore, many people use the term "agnostic" in particular either improperly or else deceptively (i.e., someone claims to be an agnostic and then when pressed on the matter they admit they do have theistic beliefs...remarkably enough, strong ones many times).
5.11.2007 6:08pm
Antonio Manetti (mail):
Is freedom of speech only an issue at secular institutions? If so, why?

Wheaton College in Illinois, for example, requires professors to take an oath forbidding the teaching of evolution as valid science. If we're willing to tolerate speech restrictions for sectarian institutions, why not secular institutions as well?
5.11.2007 6:19pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Felix - Newdow brought the media circus on himself. He probably even welcomed it (arguing his own case in the Supreme Court, etc.). Religious people didn't pick him out of thin air.

I'd much prefer to see someone like Dawkins be the public face of atheism. Perhaps a significant TV show for him would do the trick.

Nick
5.11.2007 6:21pm
Felix Sulla (mail):
NickM: With due respect, Newdow AND the media AND a lot of people proffering their outrage over Newdow's case created the media circus -- one person by himself simply can't do that. That Newdow may have wanted it ia irrelevant: clearly, it suited the needs and desires of a lot of other folks as well, and very few of them (at least in my own experience) atheists.

I agree that a TV show for Dawkins would be nice -- he does TV presentations in Britain fairly frequently -- though I am not sure a show would sustain itself merely on Dawkins vs. theism. I also think a lot of outlets would be afraid to air it: it's one thing to have him on as a guest arguing in opposition to someone arguing for faith. Giving him a platform is quite another thing, and I think a lot of advertisers would shy away from it.
5.11.2007 6:29pm
ed o:
is truth a defense at Tufts to those allegations about Islam and its adherents? Is "negative spin" a new definition of truth on the university campus?
5.11.2007 6:34pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
For those who profess to be baffled by the difference between atheism and agnosticism, it's so straightforward and well-known that your skepticism isn't credible. A theist believes there is a God (of a particular type). An atheist believes there is no God. And agnostic says he or she doesn't know and so has neither of those two beliefs.


That's a pretty good summation of what the terms mean and how I've seen them most commonly used. FTR while my beliefs haven't changed that much*, I switched from "atheist" to "agnostic" largely because it seemed that the people most eager to identify themselves as "atheists" seemed to have some bug up their arses about religion and weren't content enough to have their beliefs but seemed driven by a desire to go out of their way to attack religion in general while holding themselves out as some sort of "victims."

* As an atheist I was generally pretty moderate and always tolerant of the 90+ percent of my fellow theists who believe in God. It also helps when you have common cause with conservative evangelical Christians on issues like school choice, judicial restraint, and the war against Islamofascism.
5.11.2007 6:39pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Felix - I'm thinking more along the lines of Stephen Jay Gould's TV work. Seeing Dawkins on any topic gives him public recognition.

WRT Newdow, the media circus is because he won in the Ninth Circuit. part of the Pledge of Allegiance being ruled unconstitutional for schools to lead students in was going to be huge news, but what made him the public face was his choice to act as his own attorney and do press interviews. The plaintiffs in the Ten Commandments cases that reached the Supreme Court are far less well known.

Nick
5.11.2007 6:57pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Yes, if Newdow was surrounded by a "media circus," then it had something to do w/ his painting his face white, donning a red rubber nose, and riding a unicycle into the fray.
5.11.2007 7:05pm
JKS (mail):
The story is being presented very incompletely on this blog, and I'm a little bit disappointed in the pseudo-dishonesty (though I expect it from FIRE, not from Volokh). The main impetus for this whole debacle was the Christmas Carol, NOT the Muslim blasphemy. That piece was much more offensive, and is what generated the massive campus reaction- including from several prominent republicans and conservatives.
Second, the decision was made by a mixed faculty-student committee, which actually often is overruled. So to blabber on about the terror of liberal academia is a bit premature. Especially since the current Tufts administration has had some very prominent conservatives on campus- including a man who insists that homosexuality is a public health threat. This is not "PC university"; its a normal university. Read the christmas carol- most moderates in America would be offended.

Further, the administration released a statement about the carol when it came out, saying the club had a right to free speech and the President didnt support action against the group, but he felt the need to say something because of how hateful it was.

As someone whos been personally attacked in the paper when I was there in undergrad, though I welcomed it, I think the CSL decision is stupid. Mostly, because the Source is known for wanting to pick fights to provoke a a reaction from liberal groups on campus, and has no credibility on campus- only as a cause celebre of conservative national media. That's not "free speech", thats being an irresponsible journalist. This isnt about free speech, but the right to piss people off and make a name for yourself. Sure, they should be free to do it, but if the university didnt react, sadly, the Primary Source would wither and die because of how mean-spirited, offensive, and poorly written it is.
5.11.2007 7:12pm
CheckEnclosed (mail):
As ed o implies, no one seems to have asserted that anything in the challenged document is false. Likewise, I'm not sure how any of it is blasphemous, assuming the quotes from the Koran (or variant spelling thereof) were accurate. Surely factual material describing acts of adherents to a particular faith are not blasphemous -- are they?

Maybe the truth is "psychologically intimidating".
5.11.2007 7:16pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
The story is being presented very incompletely on this blog, and I'm a little bit disappointed in the pseudo-dishonesty (though I expect it from FIRE, not from Volokh). The main impetus for this whole debacle was the Christmas Carol, NOT the Muslim blasphemy. That piece was much more offensive, and is what generated the massive campus reaction- including from several prominent republicans and conservatives.


Do you have links to substantiate any of this?
5.11.2007 7:22pm
frankcross (mail):
Thanks for the info, JKS, and I'm glad somebody got around to noticing how ugly the carol was. It's disappointing that people propound such. However, this is clearly wrong

This isnt about free speech, but the right to piss people off and make a name for yourself.

To a large degree, free speech is the right to piss people off and make a name for yourself.
5.11.2007 7:28pm
Michael B (mail):
I'd be interested in documentation/links that would so much as substantiate FIRE's "pseudo-dishonesty."
5.11.2007 7:31pm
JKS (mail):
If you go to tuftsdaily.com, and read the 300 or so stories and posts and letters to the editor from december to now about the carol, its all on there (including the story about what happened yesterday).
As a Tufts alumnus, Ive also gotten several emails and such from different alumni, current students, and the big issue was the carol, not the muslim "blasphemy."

And the whole point of "pseudo"-dishonesty is that nothings technically incorrect, but rather a misleading presentation of the facts as they are to shape an agenda. If you read any article about FIRE in what you likely identify as the "liberal-biased" mainstream media (aka anyone but Fox News), thats the charge being made. FIRE has an agenda, and understandably, it will shape the facts the way that advances that agenda.

As to Frank's comment, I don't disagree that one isnt a subset of another. But I think it is important to distinguish when people are trying to engage in actual debate versus when they're trying to be conservative martyrs. They may have the same right to, but one is a much more sympathetic view.
5.11.2007 7:55pm
Michael B (mail):
JKS,

You missed the part about documentation/links. Then again, that would require you to argue on the basis of the evidence and more rationally, rather than leveraging general, categorical, presumptive forms. Following is at least a beginning in terms of documentation/links:

FIRE's commentary on the "Christmas Carol" parody/satire issue.

The Primary Source, examples of other, similar parody/satire, for the sake of comparison and contrast.

The offending "Christmas Carol" as originally printed in The Primary Source, with the note that "[t]he carol was intended as a satirical criticism of affirmative action and was, in fact, intended as an anti-racist statement."

Biteing and offensive satire, certainly, but it also falls within the category of social commentary. Perhaps it even warranted an apology (which was in fact forthcoming from the editors of The Primary Source), but hardly as offensive as, say, many of the lyrics found in Hip Hop music.

Btw, did anyone among the professoriate or the President at Duke ever apologize?

File under: A Study in Contrasts
5.11.2007 8:09pm
Waldensian (mail):

Tufts may have a right to have absurd restrictions on speech (I think they do and should). But that doesn't mean I shouldn't condemn the University for it's stupidity when they apply their absurd rules.

I agree, you're free to condemn them for their stupidity. I'm just wondering why anyone really cares.

I guess I can imagine that a Tufts alum would be concerned that the university's obvious stupidity is devaluing his or her degree.

Aside from that, seriously, I just don't get it. Any number of private organizations, every day, impose all sorts of limitations on their members that, if imposed by the government, would violate the First Amendment.
5.11.2007 8:26pm
wuzzagrunt (mail):
....having in fact argued these things in public and in private and been penalized (overtly or covertly) for same? I have met literally dozens of people who have not known I am an atheist (I had the good sense not to have it tattooed on my forehead when I abandoned Catholicism), and made disparaging and/or frankly bigoted comments about atheists.

[..]

I could go on, but if you honestly think there is no "atheism penalty" in this country, you are living in a fantasy version of it.


There is a vast difference between people holding your professed beiliefs in disdain, and a belief being illegal (but you knew that).

In the northeast, in "respectable" circles, expressing a belief that homosexuality is morally wrong--not sick or perverted, just wrong--will likely cause you to suffer personal and professional damage. If you believe otherwise, you need to get out more. Hell, I take an "agnostic" view of homosexuality's moral dimension and I've been called a Nazi more times than I can count. Life is tough; wear a helmet.
5.11.2007 8:30pm
wooga:

I see so why in your so enlightened country is anti-semitism a crime? Surely that is an intentional negative spin on religion?

Putting a negative spin on Islam is acceptable, putting a negative spin on Judaism or Christianity means you lose state funding and are possibly jailed. Double standard or what?


I'm pretty sure that "Avi Cohen" was this poster's hasty replacement for the more obvious "Jewie Jewstein." It's a textbook leftist tactic: don the status of the target of your hatred, so as not to be called out on your disgusting beliefs.

Well "Avi," as everyone knows, anti-judaism and anti-christianity is NOT a crime in America. I'm sorry that folks like Avi are utterly incapable of logically defending their own twisted perverted sexual fantasies religious beliefs, so they have to resort to blasphemy laws to protect their soft skulls from ridicule.
5.11.2007 9:19pm
KeithK (mail):

I agree, you're free to condemn them for their stupidity. I'm just wondering why anyone really cares.


If this kind of action was restricted to a single college campus then it really wouldn't matter. But there's at least a perception that this kind of PC free speech restriction - trying to prevent people from being offended - is rampant in American academia. As such is a concern because if most future leaders pass through an environment where such restrictions are embraced it could threaten free speech in society.

In short, tt's noteworthy because it's a symptom of a wider problem.
5.11.2007 9:37pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I'd be curious what "agenda" he thinks FIRE has.
5.11.2007 10:01pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
JKS: Whatever most provoked the Committee and others at Tufts, the fact remains that the Committee found both the anti-affirmative-action-admittee carol (which I do find offensive, but which I think has to be protected at any university that values free debate) and the harsh criticism of Islam to be punishable. It could have found the carol punishable, but the harsh criticism of Islam protected; it didn't. It expressly found the harsh criticism of Islam to be punishable; and the Committee deserves to itself be harshly criticized for that.

If the University reverses the Committee's judgment, I'll praise the University -- though I'd continue to condemn the University for having a broad and vague speech code that allowed the Committee to come to its conclusion.
5.11.2007 10:16pm
H. Benjamin (mail):
Here's an idea: if Muslims would refrain from casting terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve, and striking off their heads and striking off every fingertip of them, not to mention performing clitorectomies -- then perhaps "non-believers" would begin having a much less negative spin on Islam. Meanwhile, Muhammad and other members of the MSA should spend less time whining and more time reading Thomas Aquinas.
5.11.2007 10:34pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
The posts on atheism etc. may be interesting, but the thread quickly lost sight of the instant cause. Atheists aren't demanding privileges here.

The idea that it was all about the 'carol' (which I have not read) is contradicted by the statement "It's intentionally putting a negative spin on Islam," which was attributed to the other piece.

That Muslims at Tufts would be demanding suspension of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms is to be expected. Muslims do that everywhere there are guaranteed freedoms.

Keep your eyes on the ball.
5.11.2007 10:52pm
john w. (mail):
Somebody wrote: " ... "Agnostic" is such a weasel word--you either believe in God or you don't. ..."

Nonsense! A theist believes that God exists; an athiest believes that God does not exist; and an agnostic believes that the human brain isn't powerful enough and/or doesn't have enough data to make a logical conclusion. What is 'weaselly' about that???

I suppose one could also define a sort of "meta-agnostic" who can't decide whether or not the human brain is capable of deciding, but I don't see where that's particularly weaselly either.

P.S.: Just to lighten things up, I suppose everybody's already heard the one about the dyslexic agnostic insomniac who stayed up all night wondering if there was a Dog ?
5.11.2007 11:12pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"Keep your eyes on the ball."

Hard to do when there's so much spin applied to it.
5.11.2007 11:20pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
JKS,

FIRE indeed has an agenda: opposing restrictions on freedom of speech in universities. Some of the cases they take involve restrictions on identifiably right-wing speech, and some of the people involved in FIRE are right wing, but I do not detect a right wing bias in FIRE's overall activities. With few if any exceptions I find that I support FIRE's positions even though I am solidly left-wing, a card-carrying dues paying member of a socialist party.
5.11.2007 11:32pm
Truth Seeker:
...even though I am solidly left-wing, a card-carrying dues paying member of a socialist party.

You're a Democrat?
5.12.2007 12:02am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

...even though I am solidly left-wing, a card-carrying dues paying member of a socialist party.

You're a Democrat?



I live in British Columbia. I am a member of the New Democratic Party of BC.
5.12.2007 12:19am
Waldensian (mail):

As such is a concern because if most future leaders pass through an environment where such restrictions are embraced it could threaten free speech in society.


Aha!!! You're making a "think of the children" argument.

You're saying we quite sensibly complain at great length about plainly lawful (though idiotic) conduct by Tufts because we're concerned that future leaders of our country will go to Tufts (or similar dipstick private places), be turned into sheeple by these absurd excuses for universities, and then work to subvert the protections of the First Amendment. Right?

Is the end game here a full-fledged gulag, or does it stop short of that, with, say, only Al Franken allowed to broadcast on the radio?

Puh-leeze. I can't get too worked up about this alleged danger. Here's one remedy -- vote only for people who attended public universities. Problem solved.

I also trust the market. Having seen what Tufts is up to, what reasonable person would want to go there?

Finally, I trust young people, even though you obviously don't. Consider that 18- to 21-year-olds are actually ADULTS and are capable of rational thought about these matters. They aren't blank slates on which Tufts can write its braindead message of intolerance for free expression. The ones who buy that message are lost souls already. I trust the majority of Tufts students to make the right decisions about such things.

Even if they were dumb enough to go to Tufts.
5.12.2007 12:39am
JKS (mail):
If you think 18-21 year olds are adults capable of rational thought, you clearly havent been to a college campus on a weekend night.
Then again, I shouldn't be surprised by someone who is categorically saying everyone who goes to a college that has had serious debate and controversy around an issue is "dumb" because one panel voted a way he dislikes.... People fundamentally misunderstand what the freedom of speech as expressed in some of the other comment threads- particularly those who don't understand how this is constitutional. There are consequences for people's actions, and no, you don't have to keep funding people who say offensive things if you are a private university.
If everyone whos condemning the Tufts action was up in arms about the Solomon Amendment, then maybe I'd see some consistency. In reality though, this is turning, sadly, into a left v. right, those PC liberals claim, which is unproductive and intellectually vapid.

I agree that the decision was partially based on the MSA complaint. But this would not have been a big deal at Tufts if the carol hadn't been printed. Each issue of the Primary Source is not a blank slate, particularly at a small college. Notice I'm not saying that I agree with the decision on the free speech issue, but I think to not discuss the carol is dishonest, because it clearly played a role.
5.12.2007 2:30am
jaed (mail):
Wheaton College in Illinois, for example, requires professors to take an oath forbidding the teaching of evolution as valid science.

Pointer? (Based on a simple googling, it seems that's going to come as a big surprise to the faculty members who list evolution among their research interests, not to mention those who teach courses that deal specifically with evolution.)
5.12.2007 4:27am
Michael B (mail):
There is a luxuriantly principled kind of thoughtlessness whereby one can decry things in the lowest terms without caring to find out whether they are the consequences of the very things one extols in the highest.

(Pilfered, but fitting.)
5.12.2007 9:04am
whimsy:


Tufts may have a right to have absurd restrictions on speech (I think they do and should). But that doesn't mean I shouldn't condemn the University for it's stupidity when they apply their absurd rules.



I wonder if any university has restricted the right of students or faculty to criticize university policies as absurd. Unless anyone finds that possibility too far fetched, there are already prominent organizations that have such restrictions. For example, from the rulebook of the National Hockey League:

A player, goalkeeper, Coach or non-playing person shall not challenge or dispute the rulings of an official before, during or after a game."

and

A gross misconduct penalty shall be assessed to any player or non-playing club personnel who directs obscene, profane or abusive language or gestures to any person or uses the name of any Official coupled with any vociferous remarks, after the expiration of the game. This action may occur on or off the ice.

and

In addition to the automatic fines and suspensions imposed under these Rules, the Commissioner may, at his discretion, investigate any incident that occurs in connection with any Pre-season, Exhibition, League or Playoff game and may assess additional fines and/or suspensions for any offense committed during the course of a game or any aftermath thereof by a player, Trainer, Manager, Coach or club executive, whether or not such offense has been penalized by the Referee.


Note that any criticism of a ruling or of an official at anytime and anyplace if "coupled with any vociferous remarks" are grounds for being fined and even suspended although there is no definition as to what constitutes "vociferous remarks". Neither is there any uniform set of penalties. A player or coach could have his entire livelihood destroyed at the discretion of the Commisioner with no right to a defense or right to appeal.

Several years ago in reference to two coaches being fined for criticism of calls made in some games (the criticisms were made after the games), Colin Campbell, then NHL's executive vice-president and director of hockey operations, said, "Comments criticizing the performance of our on-ice officials violate the constitution and by-laws of our league and demean our great game. Such behaviour will not be tolerated."

Scotty Bowman, the first NHL coach to win 1000 games was fined $10,000 by the National Hockey League for comments he made contending that referees treat Russian players unfairly, a serious charge worthy of investigation.

So what is to keep private universities from prohibiting public criticism of university policies or administrators?
5.12.2007 9:58am
David Maquera (mail) (www):
Antonia Mannetti:

The reason why freedom of speech is an issue at secular institutions (eg. public universitites) and not sectarian institutions (eg. private colleges) is because the First Amendment generally prohibits public actors (not private actors) from restricting free speech.
5.12.2007 12:10pm
Waldensian (mail):

If you think 18-21 year olds are adults capable of rational thought, you clearly havent been to a college campus on a weekend night.

Whoah. Unbelievable.

Let me get this straight: you DON'T think 18- to 21-year-olds are adults capable of rational thought?!?

So we shouldn't try them as adults in criminal cases, right, because of their reduced mental capacity? And I guess they ought not have a right to contract? Marriage ought to be out of the question, I suppose.

And obviously they shouldn't be allowed to enlist in the military. In fact, you must feel pretty bad about the fact that they're in Iraq and Afghanistan right now getting shot at by Islamofascists who would like nothing better than to kill you. They're mere children, after all. No doubt you've written your Congressman about this.

Oh yeah, there's that voting thing, but those idiot lawmakers have already screwed that up big time, huh?

[Different poster:]

So what is to keep private universities from prohibiting public criticism of university policies or administrators?

Nothing, subject I suppose to whistleblower statutes or other employment laws. Why would you have it otherwise?
5.12.2007 12:18pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
Given that there appears to be no distinction between Islamic and civil laws in the Middle East (and a convergence between religious and political authority), I wonder if Muslim immigrants in the United States, or the West in general, are having a hard time appreciating that in the West, there is a concept of separation between state matters and religious matters. Hence, while a person's criticism of a religion is offensive to practitioners of that religion, it certainly does not rise to the level of a public offense or state crime. (Yes, there are many old and outdated laws on the books prohibiting disparagment of religion but these are rarely enforced, if at all.)
5.12.2007 12:19pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"Let me get this straight: you DON'T think 18- to 21-year-olds are adults capable of rational thought?!?"

I think hyperbole was in operation here, and I notice you didn't exactly debunk his point that college students are capable of some pretty irrational behavior. As for "legal age" issue, good luck finding any consistency there. They're mature enough to vote, but too immature to drink. Old enough to get married, but not old enough to drive, etc. etc.

"I wonder if Muslim immigrants in the United States, or the West in general, are having a hard time appreciating that in the West, there is a concept of separation between state matters and religious matters."

I rather wonder if many Muslims come to the US precisely because they appreciate this fact.
5.12.2007 3:20pm
Terry Ott (mail):
John W. says: A theist believes God exists; an athiest believes God does not exist; and an agnostic believes that the human brain isn't powerful enough and/or doesn't have enough data to make a logical conclusion.

So well said. Bravo for nailing it.

An agnostic might also believe there's no point agonizing over the question -- because knowing would change nothing. Oh, I suppose if I were the ONLY person to know for sure, and could prove that, it would change things for me dramatically (fame and status). But short of that, I think it would be about the same as knowing what number is in the 514th decimal place of pi.
5.13.2007 5:45am
markm (mail):
Grover Gardner

"Let me get this straight: you DON'T think 18- to 21-year-olds are adults capable of rational thought?!?"

I think hyperbole was in operation here, and I notice you didn't exactly debunk his point that college students are capable of some pretty irrational behavior.

As are 50-somethings, even ones elected to the White House. What do college students do that's more irrational (not to mention irresponsible) as getting a blow job in the Oval Office while talking to the leader of another country? Or Dubya's choice of the first bill he vetoed in six years in office?

As for "legal age" issue, good luck finding any consistency there. They're mature enough to vote, but too immature to drink. Old enough to get married, but not old enough to drive, etc. etc.

Huh? Grover, name one place where 18 year olds can't drive. In most places, kids can and do get driver's licenses at 16.

And I do agree that the 21-yo drinking age is a crock. There is a "rational basis" for it in the legal sense (an extremely low standard), in that there is a huge gap between what you can expect from young people when they are actually concentrating on a decision - as you would expect when voting or getting married - and when they're just partying, but I don't think the law is working out well in practice. IIRC, it was supposed to correct an increase in drunk-driving deaths after the drinking age was lowered to 18, but it looks to me like the whole decrease in deaths from auto accidents can be explained by better safety standards for cars plus public campaigns against actually driving under the influence.

If the issue is having kids learning to handle drink while they're still inexperienced at driving, it might be better to set the drinking age at 14 and the driving age at 18 (say), so they get over the whole drunken fool thing before they're first behind the wheel of a car. The only problem with that is that highschoolers often need transportation that public transport does not provide except in major cities, which is why the driving age was originally set at 16, which seems to me to be as low as possible without unduly increasing the hazards...
5.13.2007 11:26am
markm (mail):

A theist believes God exists; an athiest believes God does not exist; and an agnostic believes that the human brain isn't powerful enough and/or doesn't have enough data to make a logical conclusion.

Wrong. I'm an atheist not because I believe God does not exist, but because I treat that question under the same standard that would be used to evaluate the existence of anything else: the burden of proof is on those asserting his existence. If you find that there's no evidence of existence or nonexistence that will hold up, you should be an atheist, not an agnostic. Would you demand that non-believers in the Flying Spaghetti Monster present evidence that it doesn't exist?
5.13.2007 11:35am
Truth Seeker:
I've never seen a clear answer to the atheist/agnostric labels.
Some atheists believe firmly there is no god and others like markm just don't believe in any god that's been put forth.

Some agnostics don't believe in any god and other believe that it can't be know there is a god.

It seems we need some more precise labels.
5.13.2007 1:02pm
PersonFromPorlock:
markm:

...the burden of proof is on those asserting his existence.

Au contraire. Since we are part of the World, our experience of how we work is the only direct and undistorted evidence we have of how the World works. Since we work by will (it has at least the physical effect that we discuss it), the Theist Presumption must be that the World works by will and that the burden of proof is on those who assert it does not.
5.13.2007 8:48pm
Waldensian (mail):

Au contraire. Since we are part of the World, our experience of how we work is the only direct and undistorted evidence we have of how the World works. Since we work by will (it has at least the physical effect that we discuss it), the Theist Presumption must be that the World works by will and that the burden of proof is on those who assert it does not.

I can't make heads or tails of this. I don't even know if I should argue with you. Maybe we agree?

How about this: if I came to you and said I was visited in the night by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who then performed a miracle by raising my hamster from the dead, then:

(a) would I have the burden of proving this happened

(b) would you have the burden of proving it didn't happen or

(c) would we each get to claim the other had the burden?
5.13.2007 9:20pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Waldensian:

If people work the same way the rest of the World does -- a classic tenet of materialism -- then it's also true that the World works the way we do. We know that 'will' has at least the physical effect that we talk about it, so it's fair to say that 'will' plays a role in how the World works.

If the World works consistently -- another classic tenet of materialism -- an efficient 'will' in us argues that an efficient 'will' operates in the parts of the World that are not us; hence, God, if not in very much detail.

Now, this isn't an absolute proof. It may be that 'will' doesn't really work in us, or that we don't work like everything else does. But it does set up a presumption that God, simply as Man Writ Large, exists.

Your FSM -- or even Yahweh -- is much too detailed a conjuration to be supported by this line of reasoning. I would suggest, however, that you refrain from worshiping hamsters and especially from sending contributions to the Hamster Hour of Power.
5.14.2007 10:18am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Eighteen-to-twenty-one year olds are capable of rational thought and logical action.
Unless they are college students.
It's not that college students start out dumber than, say, an age-mate who is fighting overseas, or starting a blue-collar job and saving to get married.
But college extends adolescence beyond any reasonable necessity. In fact, it could be said to infantilize the undergrads.
The dorm residents have fewer rules and obligations than they did at home, while the exalted status of accumulating more classroom seat time than their benighted brethren does nothing for a prudent sense of humility.
Outside of the hard sciences a "wrong" answer is generally a matter of opinion and all opinions are equal. So, The Kids already know it all. Just ask them.
5.14.2007 10:30am
BrianT:
The Christmas Carol was certainly biting satire, but it is no more offensive than the affirmative action admissions policies it was ridiculing.
5.14.2007 10:49am
Grover Gardner (mail):
BrianT--

I think there's a difference between satirizing a policy, and characterizing the beneficiaries of that policy as "boisterous" failures "from the ghetto." It is my experience that the satirist who aims high scores points, but the one who aims low is on his own.
5.14.2007 2:50pm
David Marcus (mail):
I am puzzled. The ad that caused all this raucous presented quotes from the Koran and then some facts.

Were either the quotes improperly quoted or the facts presented non-factual?

Since when do we call truth a 'negative spin'?

In my book, legitimate facts deserve legitimate airing. If they are unpleansant then so be it. A religion must be able to withstand legitimate "heat". Responding by trying to "kill the messenger" is, in my book, a proclmation of fear of the truth - not worthy of any religion.

-David
5.15.2007 7:38pm