Opinions

Aborting free speech

Market place of ideas should be free

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The Central Student Association of Guelph University denied a pro-life group on campus club status Oct. 1. The CSA cited violations of policy and the infringement of the rights of women on campus as reasons for the unanimous denial that attempted to halt the abortion debate.

A.C. Grayling told the story of a Hungarian MP, who after a long discussion stood up and stated, "Everything has been said, but not everybody has said it yet."

The remark holds true in two important ways. The first is that it is a grievous wrong for any authority to condemn an idea as off limits. If we conclude that a topic shall not be entitled to further scrutiny or criticism, we commit the pernicious evil whereby no new evidence may be brought forth. It is an evil because in matters of science all ideas ought to be open to revision. As our range of topics expands and our methods of inquiry become more precise, new evidence may become available, thereby demanding new interpretation.

In matters of morality we should not think any differently. The alternative to certainty is not ignorance but fallibility-- a belief can be reasonable even though it is not conclusively justified or beyond all possible doubt. This should not be mistaken for relativism. We should simply proceed until we have reason to change.

It can be tempting to support the silencing of a group that disagrees with you-- in such cases it is even more important to be on our guard against bias.

Silencing an alternative view may in fact strengthen your argument temporarily, but only until the next group demands reasonable proof. If you have lost the ability to defend your beliefs, you are guilty of the same dogmatism you seek to end.

In the marketplace of ideas, everybody has an equal opportunity to access the truth. Science and philosophy rise so wonderfully above religious dogma because everyone is within reach of the facts. I shall never know a great deal about our scientific understanding of the world, but the only obstruction is my limited time on Earth.

The second sense of the Hungarian's statement is that even after a great deal of time, the right to dissent and criticize is still under attack. We see as a common rebuke of free expression that its actions are sometimes offensive. But the history of human rights-- going back to Magna Carta of 1215, all the way to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (if we exempt the perversion published by the Organization of the Islamic Conference known as the "Cairo Declaration")-- has not once mentioned the freedom from being offended.

While tact is important, diluting the argument to avoid hurt feelings is a more serious form of disrespect. Autonomous, sentient beings have rights-- ideas do not.

The Guelph pro-life club has the right to exist. Society has in no way called this case closed and it is only through open, serious discussion that headway will be made. The duty of every person with a say in the matter is to voice her opinion and to be open enough to solicit the opinion of others.

So let them speak. Their right to say it is as important as the right to tell them if they are wrong.

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Comments

Please evaluate the situation between the CSA and Life Choice further before drawing conclusions as you have done. The aim was not to silence an opposing view point but to protect the student body from having to experience an oppressive and sexist environment such as the one created by Life Choice the previous winter semester during their Life Fair. Pro-life groups should be welcomed, anti-choice ones should not.

how can you argue that one group be aloud and not the other. This is a free society where one should be capable of expressing their veiws in public. I do not condone violence, but all groups should be given their fair and rightful chance to express their veiws.

re: #2

1) All groups* have the right to be heard, but all students have an equal right not to hear any particular groups.

2) All speech* may be published, but not all forms of expression meet "community standards". The pro-life group in this story previously chose to invoke emotion via images of graphic violence not meeting community standards, instead of invoking intellectual thought via rational arguments.

2a) Human rights interest groups, such as those opposing rendition or supporting repatriation from Gitmo have at their disposal graphic content much more offensive to community standards than has been recently deployed by any pro-life group, yet the human rights groups successfully deploy rational arguments instead of such graphic content.

3) Therefore, the solutions are for this group to change community standards such that the depiction of graphic violence becomes more widely acceptable (a number of better organized interests within the gender rights space will attempt to prevent this); or for this group to avail itself of some of the cogent rational arguments that have been made in support of their cause, and to spend their media and publishing resources to share those arguments with the public, instead of being little attention whores.

* which do not violate the prevailing criminal and civil codes