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Newcastle City Council to debate freedom of expression tonight

January 6, 2016 10:41 AM

Tonight Liberal Democrats will express concern at opinions expressed by some Labour councillors who want to ban from Newcastle certain people with whose views they disagree. This comes as some Universities seek to ban speakers whom activists wish to gag.

15 years ago Bruno Schmidt former President of Yale University, Dean of Columbia Law School, noted scholar of the US First Amendment, clerk for Earl Warren, one of the greatest Chief Justices of the United States Supreme Court, said

On many campuses, perhaps most, there is little resistance to growing pressure to suppress and to punish, rather than to answer, speech that offends notions of civility and community. These campuses are heedless of the oldest lesson in the history of freedom, which is that offensive, erroneous and obnoxious speech is the price of liberty. Values of civility, mutual respect and harmony are rightly prized within the university. But these values must be fostered by teaching and by example, and defended by expression. When the goals of harmony collide with freedom of expression, freedom must be the paramount obligation of an academic community.

Much expression that is free may deserve our contempt. We may well be moved to exercise our own freedom to counter it or to ignore it. But universities cannot censor or suppress speech, no matter how obnoxious in content, without violating their justification for existence. Liberal education presupposes that a liberated mind will strive for the courage and composure to face ideas that are fraught with evil, and to answer them. To stifle expression because it is obnoxious, erroneous, embarrassing, not instrumental to some political or ideological end is-quite apart from the invasion of the rights of others-a disastrous reflection on the idea of the university