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July 05, 2018 - Image 5

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JULIA MONTAG | COLUMN

N

ewton’s
third
law
of
motion states every action
has an equal and opposite
reaction. It implies forces always
exist in pairs. For example, if you
attempt to push a car uphill in
neutral, you can feel it pushing
back against you with the same
force in the opposite direction.
Ever jump off a pool raft? I bet
as you lurched forward, the raft
recoiled
backwards.
Action,
reaction.
President
Donald
Trump,
along with the University of
Michigan
and
several
of
its
student organizations, seem to be
overlooking this simple, axiomatic
doctrine. Last week, the Trump
administration
joined
national
advocacy group Speech First in its
lawsuit against the school’s bias
response policy, claiming the rules
wrongly supervise free speech
and limit conservative student
expression on campus.
One event that comes to mind
occurred earlier this academic
year when several U-M students
slapped
on
the
firetruck-red,
infamous “Make America Great
Again” hats, which I’ve come to
understand
as
an
unspecified
invitation—a symbol that suggests,
“Yes, I support Trump and I
understand you may not, but I
invite you to engage in a political
debate, one in which neither of us
will win because both of us have
rigid, deep-rooted political and
social views.” So these students
squatted in the Diag, the sunny
square of Central Campus that
is used as a shortcut to most
destinations,
and
expressed
their right allocated in the First
Amendment, the privilege of free
speech.
They exuded their unspoken yet
implicit political opinions, which
were later clarified by New York
Times writer Anemona Hartocollis
to include “that abortion after 12
weeks is murder; that the welfare
system is being abused; that
there should be a border wall and
that the wage gap between men
and women is based on women’s
choices, not discrimination.” It’s as
if they did research on today’s most
contentious debates and put on a
hat to declare their positions on
the matters; they sowed the seeds
of controversy, sat back and waited
for them to sprout.
According to Hartocollis, at the
end of the day, after being called
“racist or, in one case, shoved and

spat on, for supporting President
Trump,” the students in question
felt penalized for engaging in free
speech and abused for expressing
their views, particularly by the
University’s Bias Response Team.
According to the team’s website,
it addresses “incidents that may
reflect bias against members of the
University community based on
their identity.” The team became
involved in this free speech case
after a significant surge in incident
reports,
which
represents
an
increase in students seeking its
support.
The
Bias
Response
Team
defines bias as “conduct that
discriminates,
stereotypes,
excludes,
harasses
or
harms
anyone in our community based
on their identity (such as race,
color, ethnicity, national origin,
sex, gender identity or expression,
sexual orientation, disability, age,
or religion).” The Team, which is
not unique to Michigan’s campus,
interpreted the aforementioned
behavior – wearing red nationalist
hats
and
instigating
political
friction – as offensive, as “bias.”
The hat-wearers recognized that
these carefully worded policies
were being misused to punish
them for their actions; in a greater
sense, conservative students in
support of the hat-wearers felt
disproportionately
deterred
from expressing their opinions.
Those who experienced similar
discouragement,
first
across
the nation then on our campus,
formed a group, eponymously
named “Speech First.” It sued the
University in May for violating the
constitutional right of free speech.
The
lawsuit
claims
the
Bias
Response
Team
silences
viewpoints,
that
the
anti-
harassment
policies
are
“unconstitutionally
overbroad,”
and “the effect of these amorphous
prohibitions … (has a) profound
chilling
effect
on
protected
expression.”
As
summarized
by NBC writer Lucas Maiman,
the regulations deter students
from voicing their opinions, for
views deemed as offensive are
threatened with discipline from
the Bias Response Team.
“Speech First’s members are
afraid to voice their views out
of fear that their speech will
be reported to the university
as
‘harassment,’
‘bullying’
or
a ‘bias incident,’” said Speech
First President Nicole Neily in a

statement attached to the lawsuit.
“Without the space to debate
and argue, students won’t ever be
forced to confront the underlying
assumptions
framing
their
worldviews,” the lawsuit states,
quoting a New Republic article.
The same article also claims groups
like the Bias Response Team will
“result in a troubling silence” on
campuses across the nation.
Now, I believe a school has a
certain right to protect its students,
but a line does need to be drawn in
order to determine the extent to
which university involvement is
allowed. The line may be a fine one,
albeit a crucial one, and one whose
threshold should be determined by
U-M students and faculty. The U.S.
court system outlines free speech
as the right to use certain “words
and phrases to convey political
messages” and to “engage in
symbolic speech.” As Wolverines
and Americans, we must find a way
to feel protected yet not monitored.
This specific event, however,
reminds me that political discord
is natural. Actions and reactions.
Applying
Newtonian
physics,
every
extremely
polarized
statement
yields
one
that
is
equally provocative and oppositely
charged.
The
Speech
First
members behind this lawsuit,
the
ostensibly
self-professed
“Students A, B and C,” have their
opinions on the gender wage gap;
I, however, have my own, and they
must recognize on a campus of our
size, most beliefs are matched with
their antitheses. I think the wage
gap between women and men is
not based on decisions made by the
former, but rather, based on a long-
standing bias in our world, one that
started centuries ago. I also believe
one can and should say what one
wants in the Diag, and one can
and should fight for the right to
do so freely. Students A, B and C
will do this, and they will demand
they not get harassed and spat
upon, shoved and discriminated
against, “bullied” for their beliefs,
and I will do the same. I, too, will
say what I want about abortions
and immigration, and maybe I’ll
publish it in The Michigan Daily;
if I don’t shove you, I expect not
to be shoved back. Actions and
reactions.

5
OPINION

Thursday, July 5, 2018
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com

him, placing him squarely in
violation of Colorado law and
simultaneously exempting him
from any defense contingent on
the artistic nature of his cakes.

Nor is it relevant that Phillips’
defense presented his beliefs
as complex; providing same-
sex couples with cookies and
birthday cakes, as opposed to
wedding cakes, was considered
by Phillips to be compatible
with his faith because these
goods are devoid of association
with marriage. Much like the
relationship between Easter
and
Christianity,
or
Yom
Kippur and Judaism, same-
sex marriage (especially after
its nationwide legalization) is
such a fundamental part of an
LGBT lifestyle that discerning
between “same-sex wedding
cakes” and their heterosexual
counterparts constitutes, in
effect, discrimination of same-
sex couples.
In light of the numerous
merits of the case against
Phillips, the language used
in the court’s opinions is
all
the
more
astonishing.
Accompanied by commentary
that, by and large, overlooked
Phillips’ obligation to subject
his privately held beliefs to
the civil rights of others, the
decision handed down on June
4 exemplifies the need for
broad, statutory consideration
of sexual orientation as a
protected class.
Pragmatically, this would
relieve
LGBT
citizens
from
relying
on
state-
level
protections
from
discrimination in public venues.
These protections can flounder
where present, as exemplified
by the Masterpiece Cakeshop
case,
and
enable
severe
injustice where absent, as is the
case in many states. Federal
protections, on the other hand,
would extend to all LGBT

Americans the assumption of
equality, affording categorical
protection that only a select
few groups currently enjoy.
Anyone
doubtful
of
the legitimacy, if not the
consequence,
of
these
protections,
could
find
justification for them in the
current
array
of
federally
protected classes. From race
and national origin to sex
and disability, these classes
comprise
the
immutable
aspects of one’s character,
those elements not up for
change. Just as one does not
choose the color of their skin,
nor should one be forced to
reconsider
their
religion,
sexual orientation has yet to
be proven as a matter of choice,
and a wide body of research
positively suggests otherwise.
While the freedom of religion
undoubtedly remains one of the
most sacred and justly guarded
protections enshrined in the
Constitution, Phillips’ actions
in the Masterpiece Cakeshop
case prove unqualified for
justification on these grounds.
Notwithstanding the sincerity
of his beliefs, free expression
does
not
supplant
the
state’s obligation to combat
the
disruption
caused
by
discrimination, as the court
has observed multiple times
prior and as was even cited by
Justice Kennedy. Recognizing
sexual
orientation
as
a
protected class acknowledges
the principles undergirding
existing federal protections,
while ensuring LGBT citizens
are not again subjected to the
privately held, albeit genuine,
religious beliefs of others with
whom they share the public
space.

The physics of free speech

Emma Chang can be reached at

emmacha@umich.edu

Ethan Kessler can be reached at

ethankes@umich.edu.

CONTRIBUTE TO THE CONVERSATION

Readers are encouraged to submit letters
to the editor and op-eds. Letters should
be fewer than 300 words while op-eds
should be 550 to 850 words. Send the
writer’s full name and University affiliation to
emmacha@umich.edu

Protect and serve by Ethan Kessler continued below:

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