Why Amnesty Defends Freedom of Speech
Published: Friday, April 15, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 15:06
We don't think that it's much of a secret that Amnesty International strongly disagrees with the position of Conservative Students for a Better Tomorrow's (CSBT) recent "Why God Loves Gays" event. Not only do we disagree with the content, we believe it rises to the level of being morally reprehensible - we would have been perfectly happy with it never having happened on campus. Furthermore, we were disappointed to see that details of the event's Cultural Life Program (CLP) status being denied had been leaked to the press; we think this is an issue best discussed on Furman's campus and certainly hope that it remains that way.That being said, we question the reasoning of the CLP committee in denying CLP status to the event. Amnesty International is a group concerned with rights, especially those involving the free exchange of ideas on college campuses. This certainly isn't a question of 1st Amendment rights, as no direct suppression has taken place. We do find problematic, however, what appears to be an arbitrary denial given the current CLP guidelines. The official rules are as follows:
A CLP event will increase its audience's understanding of the world, its people, their history and beliefs, or the forms of art or forms of government that they have created. Its topic will be a serious one and a significant one, with implications reaching beyond the immediate world of Furman University. Its spirit will be harmonious with the mission of Furman University in inviting consideration and discussion, in assuming that the members of its audience hold various beliefs and honoring those differences of belief, and in insisting on fundamental respect for all of humanity. (emphasis added)
The reason given for denying CLP status to the event was that Mr. Chambers ultimately failed to show fundamental respect for all of humanity in the content of his presentation, especially in regard to the LGBTQ community. This type of reasoning carries deeper implications that include the potential for misapplication. We are especially concerned that such a standard precludes debate as to what constitutes "respect for all of humanity." This sort of debate, a hallmark of a liberal arts education, includes discussions of the intersection of religion, morality, human nature, dignity, and justice. While we find Mr. Chambers' position misguided and logically contentious, we feel that by denying the event CLP status, the committee has already made decisions concerning these difficult questions. With all due respect, we feel that this decision underestimates the intelligence of the student body by suggesting that they cannot decide between good and bad ideas and must rely instead upon the CLP committee to do so for them.
If the Furman community decides that there is no place for such speech on campus, then perhaps it is time for a frank discussion about revising what should qualify as a CLP. We would like to invite a continued discussion about the limits of speech on campus as well as the guidelines for CLP status.
Michael Crawford, Lee Gilmer, Edward Wixler and Michael Wyatt
are members of the Furman University chapter of