When Free Speech Wins

Is Robert Spencer’s lecture at Florida State a sign of things to come?

As President of Florida State University College of Law’s Federalist Society chapter, I wish to extend a note of sincere gratitude to Mr. Robert Spencer for coming to lecture our student body recently on the subject of Islamic Jurisprudence. I also wish to thank the David Horowitz Freedom Center for helping to fund the event with a very generous grant.

Several rumors have made their way around campus, and the Tallahassee community, since the publication of my last piece here in these pages. It is claimed that Mr. Spencer and I have declared the “death of free speech” at the law school, and that we have accused the administration of threatening to censor Tuesday’s lecture.

Readers of FrontPage and of JihadWatch know how baseless these charges are. Neither Mr. Spencer nor I ever accused the deans of threatening to cancel his lecture, or to censor the event’s controversial flier. We did report, accurately, that the Muslim Law Students Association had put pressure on the administration to have the event censored, that several of the fliers had been subjected to vandalism, and that the deans did put pressure on this writer to self-censor the offensive Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon that was the fliers’ centerpiece.

There were, however, some very real and serious misrepresentations made by one student organization, and it was not the Federalist Society. The Muslim Law Students Association (MLSA) decided to orchestrate, in lieu of a counter-rally or a protest, an alternative lecture on Monday afternoon, titled “The 1st Amendment and Professionalism in a Republic.” The official Facebook event announcement, before its first edit, included some very serious charges. After playing the typically mindless, and in this case irrelevant, “racist card”, my colleagues at the MLSA made clear their frustration that the deans could not and would not force me to take down my flier, but assured their supporters that this type of scenario would not repeat itself in the future:

I spoke to Dean Weidner yesterday, and he assured me that after this very shocking, hateful, and disrespectful spur of events, the school is going to be developing a policy for regulating what goes up, so at least we’re growing out of it! Unfortunately though, [the deans] are not able to get the Federalist society to take down these fliers. {emphasis added}

These remarks were later edited: Out went the baseless charges of racial hatred, but there remained this assurance:

After speaking to Dean Weidner yesterday, it looks as though the school is going to be developing a policy for regulating what goes up on our campus. {emphasis added}

It was not until Monday afternoon, after their event went on as planned, that any reference to future censorship was removed completely, and this because I shared with one of the law professors my serious concerns over the reported “assurances” from the deans to my Muslim colleagues. I was assured that no such future restrictions on free speech were being countenanced, and that no revision of school policy on this matter is forthcoming.

It is testamentary to the respect I had for my colleagues at the MLSA that I (along with Mr. Spencer and hundreds of concerned citizens around the nation), that I took seriously and at face-value their representations of what the administration had told them. I do not know which to find more disturbing: a) That in such sensitive circumstances the MLSA would so blatantly and disgustingly impugn the integrity of their law school’s administration, calling into serious question the commitment of the faculty to principles so fundamental to a liberal-democratic polity; or b) that the MLSA considered the prospect of future involuntary censorship to be something salutary!

It goes without saying that no organization speaks for all its members, but their reaction to this entire incident cannot but call into question the commitment of the Muslim Law Students Association, its officers and its members, to the principles which undergird the United States Constitution, and explicated in the Declaration of Independence. This is a textbook-case of just the kind of tactics Mr. Spencer documented and expounded upon in his Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam Is Subverting America Without Guns or Bombs. I do not accuse any one of my colleagues of being willing “stealth jihadists,” but I do believe it important to call attention to behavior that is consistent with, and plays into the hands of, those who would like to see our constitutional system subverted and changed for the worse.

Which is precisely what our flier’s Danish Muhammad cartoon was intended to call attention to: no group of persons is beyond criticism, and no organization is without its institutional flaws and deficiencies. In Islamdom, this seems to be a consistent and suffocating oversensitivity to criticism, whether artistic, literary, or scholarly. The controversial cartoon in question truthfully satirizes the barbarities of sharia law, truthfully satirizes the justifications its proponents put forward for implementing it, and truthfully satirizes the origins of these barbarities: the life and teachings of Muhammad, as they are contained in the Koran, the hadith, and the sira, as they were implemented by Muhammad’s immediate successors the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, and as they have been codified in every major school of Islamic jurisprudence.

Yes, our Federalist Society chapter clearly intended that the cartoon be provocative. But any student reaction should have been informed not only by what the original artists intended by their satire of five years ago, but by the international reaction to these cartoons: the fact that the artists now live in fear for their lives, that violent riots were sparked all over Europe and the Islamic world, that over 100 people died as a result of these, and that plenty of media outlets refused to reproduce the cartoons for fear of violent reprisals. As I wrote in my earlier piece, this is what should offend the sensibilities of any truly “moderate” human being who sees these cartoons, especially those who reap the benefits of a liberal-democratic constitutional system by studying at a public law school.

I am grateful for all who wrote me, and the law school, to express their support for Mr. Spencer’s lecture. His talk was such a rousing success that many of my colleagues are doing their best to downplay this victory for free speech and education of the dangers of Muslim radicalism. About 100 students and supporters showed up for Mr. Spencer’s lecture, which was sponsored by our Federalist Society chapter alone. About 30 students attended the follow-up Q&A session.

By contrast, despite having been sponsored by seven student organizations, a Halloween-coalition of Muslims and committed leftists (including, rather ironically, the school ACLU and homosexualist OUTLaw chapter), Monday’s rival lecture only brought in some 220 students, a paltry 30 for every sponsoring organization.

One hopes the success of Mr. Spencer’s lecture is a sign of things to come: Americans everywhere are challenging politically correct orthodoxies, and these challenges are forcing ideologues of all political stripes to engage one another, and fine-tune the public discourse. In stimulating some much-needed discussion on such a taboo subject, the conservatives and libertarians of the Federalist Society have once again shown themselves to be the legal profession’s true vanguard of diversity, dialogue, and open-mindedness.

Cartoon-jihad intimidation is so 2009!

[Note: The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies does not necessarily endorse the contents of this article, or of Mr. Spencer’s lecture.]

Eric Giunta is a Juris Doctor Candidate at Florida State University College of Law, where he serves as President of that school’s premier conservative-libertarian debate society. He has written for LifeSiteNews and RenewAmerica.com. He maintains a blog, “Confessions of a Liberal Traditionalist,” at lexetlibertas.wordpress.com