A recent News-Letter Editorial argued that the VFL case “is not a matter of freedom of speech,”because “the SGA is not forbidding group members from voicing their opinions.” Certainly, legal first amendment rights are not at stake. However, any school policy which selectively bans speech due to its perceived offensiveness is inherently a free speech issue. Furthermore, several clauses in the SGA constitution seem to preclude viewpoint discrimination within SGA affairs. By asserting that student group recognition decisions depend on the content or delivery of the applicant group’s opinions, both the SGA and the university are indeed contradicting their stated commitments to free speech.
That some may be offended by VFL’s methods is irrelevant, because allpolitical speech offends somebody or another. ROTC programs may offend pacifists. A vegan may be offended by people who eat meat and wear leather. And to a pro-life group, abortion is highly offensive. But all of these potentially offensive activities are welcome on campus, because at an elite university, guaranteeing the free and open exchange of ideas is more important than shielding students from opinions or images they dislike. Freedom of speech protecting only that speech to which nobody objects is a hollow and meaningless guarantee.
As a pro-choice defender of abortion rights, I too disagree with VFL’s message and tactics. But as someone with a few unpopular political beliefs of my own, I am unsettled by the possibility that that I won’t be afforded the same opportunities to express those opinions as my peers. Ultimately, the SGA is choosing which political groups to grant university funding, and which to deprive of that funding, based on a flimsy and highly subjective standard of offensiveness. For people with viewpoints they find unsavory, that makes Hopkins a hostile environment.