Wednesday, October 5, 2011

GMU Law Holds its Ground on Free Speech

by Ann Snyder

At a time when many educational institutions have succumbed to mildewing political correctness and cower in the face of pressure to censor controversial speech, at least one school still maintains free and open debate on campus. That school is George Mason University School of Law. We applaud the school and its dean for their unequivocal and brave stance.

"GMU should be proud that the dean of its law school has issued such a strong statement defending freedom of expression," said Adam Kissel of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The trouble started when certain people learned that the law school's Federalist Society and Jewish Law Students Association were hosting a lecture by Nonie Darwish. Darwish is Director of Former Muslims United and author of Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror and Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law. She is no stranger to controversy.

Darwish's scheduled lecture, "The West's Clash with Radicalism," predictably drew criticism, including some from the usual suspects. In a September 30th press release, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on the GMU School of Law to "disinvite" Darwish, referring to her as "a notorious Islamophobe."

In the same press release, CAIR described itself as a "Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization," and claimed "[i]ts mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties…" Evidently, CAIR's idea of how to "encourage dialogue" and "protect civil liberties" is to silence speech it doesn't like. Likewise, CAIR's notion of how "to enhance the understanding of Islam" is to shut down speakers who see Islam differently than it does. CAIR's posturing as a civil liberties organization, while seeking to restrict free expression about Islam on campus, drips with irony.

To its credit, GMU School of Law did not bend. In an email intended to "clarify the policy" of the law school on speakers, Dean Daniel Polsby took just the right position on freedom of speech on campus. (His statement can and should be read in its entirety here.) He concluded:

The law school will not exercise editorial control over the words of speakers invited by student organizations, nor will we take responsibility for them, nor will we endorse or condemn them. There has to be a place in the world where controversial ideas and points of view are aired out and given space. This is that place.

With similar clarity of conviction and commitment to principle, Ashley Finnegan, President of GMU School of Law's Federalist Society, stated:

The Federalist Society emphatically rejects any notion of censorship, especially on a campus, and we appreciate the university's support in that position. As Justice Holmes stated, the remedy for speech with which you disagree is more speech, not censorship. We welcome any student organization to freely organize an event in response to Ms. Darwish, and we will do nothing to prevent their ability to hold such an event.

The show, as they say, will go on this Wednesday evening. The Legal Project commends Dean Polsby and the law school administration for their clear, pro-free speech stance and their preservation of free and open debate on campus. We encourage them to remain steadfast in their resolve.

Ann Snyder


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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