A Democrat on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission has urged campus restrictions on First Amendment-protected speech because, he believes, the still-developing brains of college students cannot properly process certain dangerous ideas.
The civil rights commissioner is Michael Yaki, a former senior adviser to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The Washington Post’s Eugene Volokh was present at a commission briefing on sexual harassment law in education last week when Yaki made his bizarro comments.
The civil rights commissioner said he favors outlawing speech that would be grossly unpopular, such as “a slave auction at a fraternity engagement” or a celebration of Latino culture that involves “making everyone dress as janitors and mop floors.”
Yaki also wants to turn Miss America-type pageants into campus speech crimes. He expressed his belief in the unacceptable dangers of “a situation involving women” in which they “parade around in skimpy clothing and turn in some show or something.”
In embarrassingly vague fashion, Yaki struggled mightily to make some kind of coherent point at the civil rights commission hearing.
“I mean where do you think you can, that the university can’t deal with ensuring the route it has environment that is not oppressive or hostile because obviously a campus, especially certain types of campuses where there’s a lot of — where — that are geographically compact, that have a lot of working and living situations in a close area to create a campus atmosphere,” the language-addled law school graduate stuttered.
“Doesn’t that gravitate toward having greater ability to proscribe certain types of conduct that have the ability to escalate beyond what anyone would consider to be reasonable or acceptable?”
Yaki, who spent many of his formative years in highly authoritarian countries, then distinguished himself from fellow garden-variety progressives who seek to criminalize ideas they don’t like by, hilariously, suggesting that his repressive views are backed by scientists (and citing a Supreme Court case concerning the death penalty).
“It has to do with science,” Yaki confidently explained. “More and more, the vast majority, in fact — I think — overall in bodies of science is that young people, not just K through 12 but also between the ages of 16 to 20, 21 is where the brain is still in a stage of development.”
He went on to argue that “the juvenile or adolescent or young adult brain processes information” in ways that are “vastly different from the way that we adults do.” Consequently, he proclaimed, “when we sit back and talk about what is right or wrong in terms of First Amendment jurisprudence from a reasonable person’s standpoint, we are really not looking into the same referential viewpoint.”
The civil rights commissioner then laid out his sweeping, anti-free speech conclusion.
“There are very good and compelling reasons why broader policies and prohibitions on conduct in activities and in some instances speech are acceptable on a college campus level that might not be acceptable say in an adult work environment or in an adult situation,” he said.
Among many others, Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has criticized Yaki for his “depressing” arguments against free speech.
“Yaki’s claim that speech should be especially restricted on campus ‘because of the unique nature of a university campus setting’ turns basic free speech principles upside down,” Bader wrote in a recent essay. “Free speech is especially vital on college campuses, where students can learn how to deal with opposing points of view in a civil and constructive manner.”