Free speech under siege at UMaine

"Violent language" claims fall flat

By Ryan Robbins
Maine Campus Columnist

Better watch yourself, boys and girls, men and women. The political correctness police may be lurking around the corner. Think something is funny and you want to share a joke on FirstClass, no matter how distasteful some may find it?

You might want to reconsider because the university might place a gag on you.

Jeremy Radlow found out the hard way recently when a small group of women managed to cajole the university into restricting his ability to post to public groups on FirstClass. Radlow had posted some articles critical of how society treats men and women. He also posted a parody involving Women's Resource Center Director Sharon Barker and Equal Opportunity Director Evelyn Silver.

According to Willow Wetherall, president of the Student Women's Association on campus, Radlow's posts were violent and therefore not protected by the First Amendment.

In a column published Monday in The Maine Campus, Wetherall wrote: "People may be wondering, 'What's the big deal? It's only a joke.' The big deal is just because violence is couched inside of 'joke' doesn't make it 'harmless.' Violence against women takes on many forms -- some forms are more subtle and insidious than others -- but it's still violence and it still contributes to a culture that says it's OK to oppress women this way, and that is just not funny."

Give us a break. Radlow did not advocate violence against women. And just because his bland attempts at humor hurt some people's feelings is no reason for the university to even consider abridging his First Amendment rights. This is a clear-cut case in which the university has attempted to force its pro-P.C. stance down people's throats.

At a forum last Wednesday to discuss Radlow's posts, Center for Students and Community Life interim director Stephanie Bailey said the forum was necessary because the university "wanted to make sure students had the opportunity to speak out. A lot of people feel silenced."

So the solution is to silence Radlow?

The university needs to get its priorities straight. The First Amendment guarantees the most cherished right there is. It's bad enough when the majority silences the minority. Now we have the minority silencing the majority.

How could women offended by Radlow's posts feel silenced when they have just as much right to respond in like fashion? All it takes is a click of the mouse a few words and another click of the mouse.

But that would be too difficult and too noble. Wetherall and her friends want to monopolize the marketplace of ideas while hiding behind their feelings of oppression. They're so caught up in their feelings they don't even realize they are not the oppressed -- they are the oppressors!

Wetherall wants the university to adopt an "honor code" for FirstClass use. But who might be responsible for judging which content is acceptable? I, for one, don't want somebody else judging what I should and should not read. The day one adult is able to determine what another adult can and cannot say is the day we become a fascist state.

Perhaps Wetherall and her band have already begun surfing the campus' cable system in search of offensive programming. Maybe they are already plotting to have a book burning. I'm sure they could find plenty of books in the bookstore and in Fogler Library that depict violence against women and others.

The only thing stopping these femi-nazis from going beyond FirstClass is their intent would become all too clear. They are clinging to the hope the university will somehow consider speech on computers to be less worthy of protection than speech on the mall, in the library or in the union. After all, it's too easy to press a button to prevent people from speaking their mind. And because it's too easy it must be OK, right?

The day we are no longer able to speak freely in all forums is the day we cease to be free and oppress ourselves.

This column originally appeared in Sept. 30, 1998, edition of The Maine Campus.

1998, Ryan R. Robbins. All rights reserved.

Note: Shortly after this column was published, Radlow said the university had suspended his FirstClass computer account because he had allegedly mail-bombed a computing center administrator.