Does it matter? Should it matter? After all, the First Amendment was not written to protect laudatory reports about church picnics. Rather, its most important purpose is to protect unpopular speech, even speech that is vile and hateful.

Yes, “O Come All Ye Black Folk” was offensive. (An excerpt: “O come all ye black folk, boisterous yet desirable. . . . No matter what your grades are, F’s, D’s, or G’s/Give them privileged status/We will welcome all/O come let us accept them . . .”) Still, it’s reprehensible that a student-faculty disciplinary panel would find that the editors of the Primary Source had engaged in “harassment” and “creating a hostile learning environment” as a consequence of publishing that and other articles deemed to be objectionable.

As a private institution, Tufts is not constitutionally obligated to grant full First Amendment protection to its students, faculty, and staff. But as a university, it should be devoted to the highest possible level of free speech in keeping with its academic mission. Unfortunately Tufts, like too many colleges and universities, has adopted a speech code aimed more at coddling delicate sensibilities than at encouraging open, robust debate.

Nor was Tufts the only Greater Boston university to trample on speech during the past year. At Brandeis University, the student government came down on Gravity, a campus humor publication, for running a fake ad with a slavery theme.

As Harvey Silverglate and Jan Wolfe wrote in these pages recently, what’s especially disturbing about these two instances of campus censorship is that they were largely engineered by students, who “are now enabling their own repression.” Rather than learning how to think about unpopular ideas, these students would rather punish those who promulgate them — thus turning the purpose of a college education on its head.

Newt Gingrich
Ex–US House Speaker attacks free speech at First Amendment dinner

God bless Newt Gingrich. It’s hardly a surprise that the former House Speaker would publicly trash the First Amendment. But because he traveled all the way to New England to do it, the Georgia Republican has made it into our winner’s circle. That he chose to deliver his ill-considered remarks at a dinner honoring — believe it or not — the First Amendment is just an additional reminder of how much we miss him, and why we desperately hope he enters the Republican presidential race later this year.

Here’s what Gingrich said last November during a speech at the Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Awards dinner, in Manchester, New Hampshire, at which he conjured up the image of a nuclear attack: “My view is that either before we lose a city, or if we are truly stupid after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that we use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us, to stop them from recruiting people before they get to reach out and convince young people to destroy their lives while destroying us.”

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