Speech is getting less free

And the costs are prohibitive.

Things are getting worse, too. Look at the incident at Chicago’s Northwestern University that prompted this editorial from the Chicago Tribune editorial board.

Universities were meant to be places where ideas can be voiced and debated without fear, where the search for truth has no artificial limits, where no assumption is beyond challenge. Their motto could be the line by the 17th-century poet and philosopher John Milton: “Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

How archaic that sounds now, sadly.

In February, communications professor Laura Kipnis wrote an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe.”

That started a chain of events that blew up the academic arena of ideas where challenge and response should be the norm, and everyone should be intelligent and mature enough to engage in that arena with reason. Read the editorial to see how far short of that ideal the university fell when things started flaring up over Professor Kipnis’ article.

Geoffrey Stone, a First Amendment scholar and former provost of the University of Chicago, wrote in The Huffington Post that Northwestern had committed an “embarrassing” betrayal of “the core principles of academic freedom.” Kipnis’ sole offense, he said, was “writing an article that upset some students.”…

The article Kipnis wrote was in the best tradition of spirited inquiry. Northwestern’s rough treatment of her is bound to have an intimidating effect on professors who see the danger of expressing any opinion that could offend anyone.

Just ask Sir Tim Hunt, formerly esteemed scientist at University College London. Who had an incident of misspeaking in a clearly clumsy setup for a talk before a world conference of science journalists, which he may forever regret.

As jokes go, Sir Tim Hunt’s brief standup routine about women in science last week must rank as one of the worst acts of academic self-harm in history. As he reveals to the Observer, reaction to his remarks about the alleged lachrymose tendencies of female researchers has virtually finished off the 72-year-old Nobel laureate’s career as a senior scientific adviser.

What he said was wrong, he acknowledges, but the price he and his wife have had to pay for his mistakes has been extreme and unfair. “I have been hung out to dry,” says Hunt.

His wife, Professor Mary Collins, one of Britain’s most senior immunologists, is similarly indignant. She believes that University College London – where both scientists had posts – has acted in “an utterly unacceptable” way in pressuring both researchers and in failing to support their causes.

Certainly the speed of the dispatch of Hunt – who won the 2001 Nobel prize in physiology for his work on cell division – from his various academic posts is startling. In many cases this was done without him even being asked for his version of events, he says. The story shows, if nothing else, that the world of science can be every bit as brutal as that of politics.

That’s an important component of this case study to note. It’s pervasive now.

Sitting on a sofa with his wife, Hunt tries to explain why he made the remarks that got him into trouble while Collins groans in despair as he outlines his behaviour. Hunt had been invited to the world conference of science journalists in Seoul and had been asked to speak at a meeting about women in science. His brief remarks contained 39 words that have subsequently come to haunt him.

What in the world could have caused so much trouble, in so few words? Here’s what he said in the now infamous, awkward setup on the topic of women in science.

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry,” he told delegates.

Just as an aside, I’m a woman and longtime investigative journalist who worked for two decades for one of the nation’s leading news magazines interviewing thought leaders, including a Nobel laureate the day he won the prize, and members of a presidential administration, among other dignitaries. Had I been sitting in that audience, I would not have laughed, smiled, or shown any glimmer of reaction, probably thinking ‘that was a stupid thing to say‘, and waiting for him to get to the important stuff.

But it was a tougher crowd.

Hunt may have meant to be humorous, but his words were not taken as a joke by his audience. One or two began tweeting what he had said and within a few hours he had become the focus of a particularly vicious social media campaign. He was described on Twitter as “a clueless, sexist jerk”; “a misogynist dude scientist”; while one tweet demanded that the Royal Society “kick him out”.

The next morning, as he headed for Seoul airport, Hunt got an inkling of the storm that was gathering when BBC Radio 4’s Today programme texted requesting an interview…

After Today was broadcast, and while Hunt was still flying back, Collins was called by University College London. She is a professor and a former dean there, while Hunt was an honorary researcher.

“I was told by a senior that Tim had to resign immediately or be sacked – though I was told it would be treated as a low-key affair. Tim duly emailed his resignation when he got home. The university promptly announced his resignation on its website and started tweeting that they had got rid of him. Essentially, they had hung both of us out to dry. They certainly did not treat it as a low-key affair. I got no warning about the announcement and no offer of help, even though I have worked there for nearly 20 years. It has done me lasting damage. What they did was unacceptable.”

The story appeared in newspapers round the world under headlines that said that Hunt had been sacked by UCL for sexism. Worse was to follow…

Hunt is under no illusions about the consequences. “I am finished,” he says. “I had hoped to do a lot more to help promote science in this country and in Europe, but I cannot see how that can happen. I have become toxic. I have been hung to dry by academic institutes who have not even bothered to ask me for my side of affairs.”

This is now standard operation procedure for academic institutions, political ones, elite media and activist organizations influenced by “the illiberal left”, as Kirsten Powers calls it, in her challenging book The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. She was my guest on radio twice recently, each time eager and ready to engage, and we had lively conversations about the need for engagement of diverse opinions in the arena of ideas, with respectful debate and intellectual engagement. I also share her deep concern over vanishing civil discourse and a dominant culture of intolerance, shutting down debate and even discussion.

It’s an important book, for its intellectual honesty  and insight by a professional political strategist well-known as a liberal who worked in the Clinton administration, and a current commentator on Fox News. She has accumulated a full package of insights from all that experience, which started in a childhood immersed in news and political affairs. Much like mine. We share a deep appreciation for the art of the argument, and the need for robust public debate between proponents of different ideas. That’s not only not what’s happening, she worries it’s becoming increasingly threatened by the bully forces of “the illiberal left.”

The behavior of the illiberal left flies in the face of decades of jurisprudence forged by liberal Supreme Court Justices who argued for an expansive view of the First Amendment and treated free speech as a precious commodity to be guarded jealously…

Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr. – a liberal lion known for his outspoken progressive views – was perhaps the strongest First Amendment advocate of the modern era.

Powers cites what was likely Brennan’s most well-known free speech opinion, in which he defended “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open…” But, she says:

The illiberal left does not share this commitment. Their burgeoning philosophy in favor of government power to curtail freedom of thought, speech, and conscience is troubling.

Because it’s brutal, with a ‘mob mentality’ enforcing silence where free speech laws still protect those still willing to speak out. However, Powers says:

The illiberal left knows that delegitimization works. It’s their strongest weapon in a country with unparalleled free speech protections. If you can’t suppress views you don’t like with repressive laws, then delegitimize the people expressing them.

While we still have free speech laws in place…

deligimization through demonizing and intimidation remains the illiberal left’s most effective tactic…The illiberal left seeks to short-circuit this process (of debate). They don’t want to defend their views, nor do they want to allow forums for other people to present views that are at odds with the conclusions they have drawn on an array of issues. Sometimes, the mere suggestion of holding a debate is cast as an offense.

And this is early in her book. It’s filled with case studies backing up everything she says, and she says a lot that needs to be said.

Under a section titled ‘Age of Un-Enlightenment’, she says what so many have been afraid to say, which she does throughout the book.

The illiberal left isn’t just ruining reputations and lives with their campaigns of deligitimization and disparagement. They are harming all of society by silencing important debates, denying people the right to draw their own conclusions, and derailing reporting and research that is important to our understanding of the world. They are robbing culture of the diversity of thought that is so central to learning and discovery…

When people are afraid to express their opinions because they’ve seen other people as deviants deserving of public shaming or worse, they will be less likely to speak freely…This is not the kind of world we want.

No, it isn’t. We’re in a Paul Revere moment in our history in the US, and a pivotal one globally. Whoever hears the call to stand up to the assault on free speech should be emboldened to engage, challenge, present and defend truths about human rights and dignity that the “illiberal left” work to discredit or eliminate altogether.

This battle goes back to Plato, who battled the Sophists of his time. In Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, Josef Pieper described how they so deftly worked at retooling vocabulary and rhetoric to change the meaning of words to justify anything. Pieper explicitly described the results.

 The place of authentic reality is taken over by a fictitious reality…deceptively appearing as being real, so much so that it becomes almost impossible anymore to discern the truth.

We’re getting darned close to that place.

For the general public is being reduced to a state where people not only are unable to find out about the truth but also become unable even to search for the truth because they are satisfied with deception and trickery that have determined their convictions, satisfied with a fictitious reality created by design through the abuse of language.

Powers makes the point from current politics:

What sets the illiberal left apart are their campaigns to delegitimize people who deviate on even one issue by openly engaging in racist and sexist attacks, all the while presenting themselves as the protectors and representatives of all women and non-white people.

This is going to be a rich and robust presidential campaign season for the next year and a half. So much is at stake.

Little Sisters of the Poor and Obamacare’s contraception mandate

Sir Thomas More said he was the king’s good servant, but God’s first.  This modern day version isn’t far off.

They were just minding their business serving the poor, sick and dying when the HHS mandate came down requiring them and other employers to provide healthcare coverage that supplied birth control, the ‘morning-after’ pill (both of which can cause abortion of new human life) and elective sterilization as ‘preventive medicine’ for women, free of charge to those women. Even though birth control is widely available even to women on low incomes or public aid through the Title X federal grant, among other programs.

Before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in HHS mandate lawsuits in March, I’m planning to do a primer here on the basics, which many people still don’t know, based on a lot of uninformed remarks online and throughout the media about the truth and realities of the mandate, its impetus, its overreach, its punitive threat for non-compliance, and its violation of established law.

But the ruling Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued late on New Year’s Eve shed a lot of light on the controversy, and made the Little Sisters of the Poor the unlikely emblem of conscientious objection to government intrusion on basic human rights.

U.S. News & World Report published this backlash calling Sotomayor’s ruling a ‘war on women’, saying she can’t be trusted on “women’s health and human rights”. And that was only the beginning of a tirade on her and the high court, because of its Catholic justices.

HotAir.com tried to navigate that piece.

It’s difficult to pick a place to start with Jamie Stiehm’s anti-Catholic diatribe yesterday that US News’ editors somehow decided to publish as part of their opinion section. It’s such a target-rich environment that it challenges the restrictions of fair use and copyright law, but so ludicrously entertaining that it rises to must-read level. Stiehm uses the issuance of a very temporary stay by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor to argue that Catholics have seized control of the Supreme Court — and really should be excluded from any position of power at all:

Et tu, Justice Sonia Sotomayor? Really, we can’t trust you on women’s health and human rights? The lady from the Bronx just dropped the ball on American women and girls as surely as she did the sparkling ball at midnight on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Or maybe she’s just a good Catholic girl.

The Supreme Court is now best understood as the Extreme Court. One big reason why is that six out of nine Justices are Catholic. Let’s be forthright about that. (The other three are Jewish.) Sotomayor, appointed by President Obama, is a Catholic who put her religion ahead of her jurisprudence. What a surprise, but that is no small thing.
Let’s test that hypothesis. How many key decisions have been made by the Supreme Court on a 6-3, Catholic/Jewish basis? After all, if Catholicism is the deciding factor in American jurisprudence, then that’s the kind of split we’d most often see, no? Either that or nothing but 9-0 decisions, since Catholics and Jews share a common basis for faith, philosophy, and moral law.

And what has Stiehm so steamed? Not an actual decision by Sotomayor, or even an opinion. Sotomayor issued a temporary stay in enforcing the HHS contraception mandate on Catholic nuns, who would otherwise have to facilitate birth-control insurance coverage or face ruinous fines. Apparently, even an interruption in this mandate rises to the level of gender treason and theocracy.

But never mind facts. When someone is so angry they can become irrational.

Does Stiehm know that nuns are celibate and therefore don’t require birth control, free or otherwise? And that they clearly don’t want birth-control coverage? A mandate that requires nuns to sign a waiver that facilitates coverage of birth control is farcical on its face. Talk about imposing beliefs. The nuns (and other plaintiffs against the mandate with stronger cases) aren’t attempting to prevent employers from providing birth control; they’re trying to stop the government from forcing them to distribute and pay for it, directly or indirectly.

Read the whole piece, Ed Morrissey does his level best to tackle the points of the US News piece.

Elizabeth Scalia has been blogging on this, wondering if US News would issue a correction or apology or some sort of acknowledgement that their pages had allowed such an ‘unprofessional screed’. What they did issue, she contends, was an approval of the unhinged piece Stiehm originally wrote in reaction to Sotomayor’s ruling.

The long-awaited statement from U.S. News was released yesterday evening. Editor Brian Kelly has this to say, regarding Jamie Stiehm’s column dated January 7:

“…We are committed to publishing a diversity of views on a variety of topics. Jamie Stiehm’s piece is within the bounds of fair commentary. We have run letters rebutting the piece and will continue to feature a diversity of opinions on this topic and others.”

That’s weak; a very shortsighted response. Stiehm’s piece was not a standard professional commentary; it was a full-scale, blanket condemnation of a particular set of people, flavored with a strong suggestion that those sorts of people should probably be excluded from the public square.

Let’s take a second look at what Stiehm wrote, insert words other than “Catholic” into her lines, and we can wonder whether Mr. Kelly would be quite so cavalier about printing the following:

(Note: This is a thought experiment by Scalia replacing only Catholic identifiers with other identify groups, and otherwise leaving the accusations in place.)

Lesbians often try to impose their beliefs on you, me, public discourse and institutions. Especially if “you” are female.

Jews in high places of power have the most trouble, I’ve noticed, practicing the separation of church and state. The pugnacious Jewish Justice. . .is the most aggressive offender on the Court, but not the only one.

The seemingly innocent Black Sisters likely were likely not acting alone in their trouble-making. Their big brothers, the meddlesome NAACP are bound to be involved. [Blacks] seek and wield tremendous power and influence in the political sphere.

In one stroke with ominous implications, there’s no such thing as Gay justice or mercy for women on the Supreme Court, not even from GLAAD.

The Dome of the Rock refuses to budge on women’s reproductive right. . .

(Thought experiment ends here. Scalia continues:)

I am going to make a good-faith assumption that Mr. Kelly did not attempt that little exercise before handing down the statement. Had he done so, I find it very difficult to believe that he (or op-ed page Managing Editor, Robert Schlesinger) would still think it fell “within the bounds of fair commentary.”

Or, perhaps they would, and if so they need to admit it. Their readership certainly deserves to know what they stand for, and if U.S. News is going to embrace such a radical editorial policy, they might as well put it out there and say, “yes, we would be just as content with Stiehm’s column if she had expressed exactly these sentiments about Lesbians, or Jews, or African Americans, or Gay men, or Muslims, because we agree that there are some kinds of people who simply should not be trusted to participate in American governance, and it’s time to stop being so politically correct and say it.”

That would almost be refreshing, truth be told.

Until, of course, people understood that this is how jackboots are constructed.

I hope U.S. News will give it another shot. As I said in this piece, the knee-jerk habit of silencing anyone — left or right — who misspeaks or says something stupid or even vile, does not allow for education, reconciliation, enlightenment or enlarged thinking, and I have never supported it. We need to move beyond making people “go away”, because scalp-collecting begs retaliation. And too, we really do need to know what people actually think, not merely what they say. That way, there are no surprises when movements spring up.

But clarity of purpose is required, and as regards this matter, things are still murky. When I asked Schlesinger if he cared to comment further, he declined, so we still need answers: Why, precisely, does U.S. News think Stiehm’s piece fine and fair, as it is, and to what end do they defend it? Are they saying “let ‘er rip” and endorsing full-scale hate speech as something good and necessary — the inevitable corrective to thirty years of hedging language, used in service to ersatz and redefined notions of “tolerance” and “sensitivity”? If that’s what they’re intending, that might at least be interesting and some people may even applaud it; the policing of public language has left us leery of each other, flocking to echo chambers that feel “safe” but have furthered our polarization.

If U.S. News intends a correction in public dialogue, let them own it.

USA Today’s editorial board published this. Their view on ‘Obamacare overreach’: ‘Nuns and birth control don’t mix’

When the Obama administration picked a fight with Catholics and other religious groups over free birth control coverage for employees, sooner or later it was bound to end up doing battle with a group like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

And sure enough, the administration is now stuck arguing that it is justified in compelling nuns who care for the elderly poor to assist in offering health insurance that they say conflicts with their religious beliefs. Talk about a political loser…

Wisely, churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, but the administration wrote rules so narrowly that they failed to exempt Catholic and other religiously affiliated hospitals, colleges and charities. Its position was constitutionally suspect, politically foolish and ultimately unproductive. The number of women affected is likely so small that the administration could find some less divisive way to provide the coverage.

Instead, the administration is battling Catholic bishops and nuns, Southern Baptists, Christ-centered colleges and assorted religious non-profits that filed challenges across the country. The lawsuits stem from an “accommodation” President Obama offered after his too-narrow religious exemption caused an uproar in 2012.

The accommodation is more of a fig leaf than a fix: Although religiously affiliated non-profits do not have to supply birth control coverage themselves, they must sign a certification that allows their insurance companies to provide it instead. Some non-profits have acquiesced, but not the Little Sisters and others who argue that this makes them complicit in an act that violates a tenet of their faith. If the non-profits refuse to sign, they face ruinous fines — $4.5 million a year for just two of the Little Sisters’ 30 homes.

So far, the government is on a losing streak. In 19 of 20 cases, including the Little Sisters’, judges have granted preliminary relief to the non-profits, allowing them to press their claims. The administration should take the hint.

In several cases, even if the government wins, the whole exercise will not result in a single woman getting a single free contraceptive, because under a different law, the insurers themselves are exempt. So what exactly does the administration hope to gain?

Finally, some good questions and attempts at more thorough reporting on the issues surrounding the HHS mandate .

Evangelical leader Dr. Timothy George published this thoughtful piece in First Things Monday.

It is not surprising that abortion extremists have blasted the justice [Sotomayor] for “selling out the sisterhood” and for being “just a good Catholic girl” who “put her religion ahead of her jurisprudence.”

Earlier on the same day, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to President Obama on behalf of his fellow bishops. He asked the president to use his executive authority to broaden the religious exemption to provide relief to many Catholics and other Christians in non-profit institutions affected by the mandate. In particular, he appealed on behalf of those whose religiously informed conscience will not allow them to provide—or to “designate” others to provide for them—sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. Of course, such things are legally available at moderate costs in this country and could readily be given to all without forcing the Little Sisters and others to go through this conscience-crushing exercise. The situation could also be ameliorated by the government’s simply recognizing the Little Sisters as a “religious employer” which, by any commonsense definition, they clearly are. The Kurtz letter urged the president to offer “temporary relief from this mandate, as you have for so many other individuals and groups facing other requirements under the ACA.” To my knowledge, His Excellency has yet to receive a response.

How did a modest order of women religious—only 2,700 members worldwide—with a mission to care for the elderly poor become the center of a raging social and political controversy?

Dr. George examines the history of the Little Sisters of the Poor and the legacy of their founder.

Jeanne Jugan, who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, has been called the Mother Teresa of her times…

So why are the Little Sisters caught up in the mandate madness? Why can’t they just get on with their good works and forget about their conscientious scruples? Or, as has been suggested, why won’t they just sign a piece of paper and let someone else do their dirty work—surrogate soldiers and contract killings are quite common in some circles.

The answer is quite simple: They actually believe all that stuff they claim to believe. Just like the early Christians who refused to place a pinch of incense on the altar of the imperial deity in order to escape reprisals and recrimination, the Little Sisters of the Poor know, as St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, that they are not their own, that they do not belong to themselves, that they have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The Little Sisters will not violate their core values for the sake of expediency. Among those values is this one: “Reverence for the sacredness of human life and for the uniqueness of each person, especially those who are poorest and/or weakest. This is reflected in care that is holistic and person-centered.”

On April 8, 2013, the Little Sisters responded to the “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” from the Department of Health and Human Services by stating that “the federal government should not force us to counteract through the health benefits for our employees the very same Gospel of Life that we attempt to live out in communion and solidarity with the needy elderly.”

This should be self-evident.

George concludes with this anecdote.

On New Year’s Eve, as Americans first heard about Justice Sotomayor’s ruling—some cheering, some bemoaning—the delightful and spontaneous Pope Francis in Rome picked up the phone to make a surprise call, as he is wont to do. He was trying to reach a group of Carmelite nuns in Spain in order to wish them a Happy New Year. Instead, he got that most annoying of modern contrivances, the answering machine. In the message he left, the pope wondered what the good sisters were doing on New Year’s Eve that they could not answer the phone (in fact, they were praying). He promised to call them back, which he did.

I can think of no group that better exemplifies the mission and heart of Pope Francis with his winsome call for mercy and ministry to the poor, the neglected, the least wanted in our society than the Little Sisters of the Poor. Abortion and contraception are not the central concerns of their day-to-day ministry and work. But their consciences have been well formed on these issues by the best of Catholic teaching, including this statement by Pope Francis last August, often reiterated before and since, that “human life must always be defended from its beginning in the womb.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Holy Father, prompted by the Spirit, would be led to call the Little Sisters of the Poor? I believe they would answer the phone.