The Right To Disparage My Political Views

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by Conor Friedersdorf

I'm surprised to see that Claremont McKenna College has run afoul of FIRE, the non-profit that advocates for free speech on American campuses.

Claremont McKenna's (CMC's) policy on "Acceptable E-Mail Usage" provides that "[t]he College's system must not be used to create or transmit material that is derogatory, defamatory, obscene or offensive. Such material includes, but is not limited to, slurs, epithets or anything that might be construed as harassment or disparagement based on race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, or religious or political beliefs." 

This policy is truly breathtaking in its reach. You can be punished for any e-mail that might be construed as disparaging on the basis of religious or political beliefs? Or any e-mail that is found derogatory or offensive by some unspecified standard? Given that e-mail is a widely used mode of communication among college students and faculty, this policy prohibits a large amount of core political and religious expressionthe kind of expression that lies at the heart of the First Amendment and that is crucial to the open debate that should characterize a prestigious college like CMC.

When I attended Pomona College, which is right next door, I edited newspapers that appeared on both campuses, and received e-mail disparaging my political views on a weekly basis! Thank goodness none of my interlocutors were punished back then.

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