Sunday , September 03, 2017 - 4:30 AM
Don’t hide in the shadows.
Don’t scurry like a rat in a dark alley.
If you consider yourself the master race, step forward. Show yourself. Defend your ideas.
But you won’t. Because in the end, your ideas are indefensible.
Someone put up posters at Weber State University last weekend promoting white supremacy. University officials removed them before fall classes started Monday. A school spokeswoman said the posters had been taped to glass and placed over other flyers, violating WSU policy.
No one claimed responsibility for the neo-Nazi propaganda, posted less than a month after Vanguard Utah admitted putting up similar posters at the University of Utah. WSU students reacted with anger and disgust.
“This is my campus. Hate speech, racism, and white supremacy will not be tolerated,” Janis Branca said on Facebook.
No, but they must be openly engaged, or they will continue to grow in the shadows.
Contrary to popular belief, the First Amendment does not prohibit hate speech. As recently as 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, could not be prohibited from picketing military funerals with its “God hates fags” signs. And in Brandenburg vs. Ohio, decided in 1969, the court affirmed a Klansman’s right to free speech.
That right ends, the court ruled in Brandenburg, when speech incites “imminent lawless action.” The white supremacist flyers at Weber State apparently fell short of that threshold; officials took them down because the neo-Nazis who distributed them, being neo-Nazis, didn’t play by campus rules.
They never will. Decades after the master race lost a world war, more than 50 years after the civil rights movement began, white supremacists cling to their discredited ideas.
We cannot demonstrate the fallacy of those beliefs if we refuse to engage them.
Nearly a century ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote this:
Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.
Monday, in a message to the university, WSU President Charles Wight said something similar. Learning sometimes requires individuals to examine ideas they find troubling, he said.
“That type of learning isn’t easy,” he wrote. “It means that, beyond including people who share our beliefs, we must broaden our minds to understand beliefs that differ from our own. You might encounter ideas that anger or offend you.”
Make no mistake, Wight said — Weber State University condemns bigotry in all its forms.
“Our values reflect the values of a vast majority of our fellow human beings, who are committed to love and understanding,” he wrote. “We must work to keep Weber State the welcoming environment it always has been.”
American democratic ideals are powerful; liberty, justice and equality consistently prevail over hatred and intolerance.
Used against the neo-Nazis trying to recruit at WSU, they will prevail again.
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