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.
Quoting from your email of 29 March 2006:
"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
“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
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
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