One of the Drawbacks

To authoring a blawg dedicated to Alabama Law and Society is that you can appear very one-sided. The reason is that in Alabama most goofiness is committed by those generally referred to as conservatives. The wackos on the other end of the spectrum are not well-represented in this state.

So, to provide some balance, check out this story from Australia (h/t The Volokh Conspiracy).

According to the article, some professor wrote a letter to a newspaper saying “an expanding black population was a ‘sure-fire recipe’ for increased crime and violence.” Naturally, someone took offense. Did the offended person write another letter debunking the claim? No, they filed a complaint with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission saying the letter violated the Racial Discrimination Act.

Did the commission dismiss the claim because a letter to the paper is protected speech? No. Instead “chairman John von Doussa has found Professor Fraser’s comments were unlawful because they amounted to a ‘sweeping generalisation’ that was not backed by research.”

The complainant’s lawyer said “This is not a question of freedom of speech . . . . This is about how far you can go in spewing your bile on other people because of the colour of their skin.” Another member of the local thought police stated “I have no difficulty with legitimate academic discourse but there is no such thing as freedom of hatred.”

So how do you determine as a matter of law what is legitimate academic speech and what is bile? There is no way to do so other than a case-by-case examination. The result of such ad hoc decision making is that prior to the adjudication, no-one can know for certain whether or not their speech is protected or not. Hence, all speech is made under the threat of sanctions. How freely would you conduct research and publish results if you knew some bureaucrat would get to decide whether it is legitimate speech or not?

Furthermore, if you want to convince the public that this professor is a hack it would be better to answer his argument on its merits. Cite some contrary statistics. Expose his biases. Using the power of the state to beat it down will only lead to the professor and his kind developing martyr complexes.

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