Too often, conservatives who might not support a speech code on campus have no problem telling other adults—independent decision makers—how to act, speak and dress in the name of “dignity.”
The latest example comes from conservative commentator Matthew Schmitz. Schmitz, an editor at First Things, says that the time has come to use our power to restrict the First Amendment and ban adult magazines, adult movies and other sexually explicit materials in the name of a more polite society. In other words, to ban porn.
According to Schmitz, First Amendment litigation is rife with restrictions on the freedom of speech, and that “law bends to the contours of culture.” With society now reaping the rewards of vulgarity in the figure of Donald Trump, Schmitz argues, a few laws—or even enforcing a few obscenity laws that are already on the books—could go a long way to saving America from the terror of seeing naked people.
Schmitz claims that radical feminists have taken the place of the Moral Majority in calling for an end to the misogynistic practice of adult film-making (citing, of course, Gail Dines, who has helped social conservatives lead the “ban porn” charge). But Schmitz also argues that, since we see college campuses embracing safe zones and restricting free speech where they disagree with the content, that conservatives should come to love the censor bar as well.
Embrace, he says, don’t hate the “safe space” (though he stops short of saying we should start hosting coloring parties with puppies and soft pillows near our local adult bookstores).
Schmitz has only a shaky leg to stand on when it comes to First Amendment jurisprudence (the Supreme Court considers most “obscene” materials protected speech). But beyond that, his attitude exposes a conservative hypocrisy when it comes to the open, public forum. Safe spaces defeat the purpose of the intellectual nature of the university and infantilize students by teaching them that differing opinions are best censored rather than encountered. They teach college students that the world should be sanitized for their protection.
Conservatives and libertarians, who have long championed the right to Freedom of Speech, often because they’re on the receiving end of censorship in academia and the public square, cannot afford to embrace safe spaces or the prickly “make it stop by any means necessary” attitude towards culture—specifically, aspects of it that they just don’t like.
Kim Kardashian is a self-made woman who directs her career, and well-formed adults can avert their gaze from her naked selfies; she shouldn’t have to stop posting them on Instagram.
Schmitz argues that “fighting words” and “incitements to violence” are proof positive that the First Amendment can be restricted, it’s simply up to conservatives and libertarians to follow the lead of liberals in deciding when and where. Perhaps the best approach is to leave those restrictions as open as possible.