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Letter To The Editor -- Ayn Rand Institute
by
Lester S. Garrett

The following is a reply to the Ayn Rand Institute's "Advisory" regarding NYU and the Muhammad Cartoons, and to Debi Ghate's subsequent "Letter to The Editor", copies of which I received as a subscriber to the ARI.

Dear Editor,

Quoting from your email of 29 March 2006:

"Dear Subscriber,

"Freedom of Speech needs your help. [emphasis in original]  New York University is censoring the display of the Danish cartoons at this evening's panel discussion on free speech that NYU's Objectivist club has organized. We urge you to contact NYU's administration and let them know what you think about their display of cowardice and censorship. Hopefully, with your help, NYU's administration will reverse its disgraceful decision to clamp down on our right to free speech [emphasis mine - lsg] and let the event go ahead as originally planned."

At best that's a poor choice of words.  As every Objectivist should know, the right to freedom of speech does not, nor should it ever, prohibit a private institution such as NYU from restricting the speech of its students.  Your right to free speech was in no way whatsoever “clamped down” upon by NYU’s cowardly action.

The right to free speech is a right to be free from government action.  Quoting Ayn Rand:

“The right of free speech means that a man has the right to express his ideas without danger of suppression, interference or punitive action by the government.”   [Ayn Rand, “Man’s Rights” in “The Virtue of Selfishness”, 1st Printing 1964, p. 97 emphasis added]

There is no "right" which requires that a private institution must allow its members to speak freely.  Despicable as NYU's actions were -- and they were -- they are not an excuse for sloppy writing.

I was further disappointed to see Debi Ghate make the same mistake in her "Letter to the Editor", a copy of which you also sent me.  Quoting therefrom:

"In effect NYU said: 'We're going to sacrifice your right to free speech [my emphasis - lsg] one way or another. . .."

Well no, Debi.  Literary license notwithstanding, NYU did not say, either in fact or “in effect”, that they were going to do something which only an agency of government can do, viz., "in effect. . . sacrifice [students'] right to free speech. . .."  NYU’s betrayal of a university’s commitment to free expression and discussion of ideas does not constitute a violation of anyone’s rights.

Quoting further from Ms Ghate’s letter:

"NYU caved to intimidation rather than insist that every student has the right to express his thoughts. . .."  "Why did NYU trample the rights of the Objectivist student group. . ..[my emphasis]"

The administrations actions were cowardly, and deserved to be so characterized.   But they did not “trample” on anyone's rights.  Properly condemning the university for its despicable actions does not justify abusing the concept of rights.

This writer hopes that The Ayn Rand Institute will stand steadfast for conceptual clarity.

Lester S. Garrett
16 April 2006

[my email address]

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