Ethics Quote Of The Week: Ken White of Popehat

“A few hysterically censorious kids screaming for a professor’s termination for crimethink do not threaten the foundations of free speech, but Yale lauding them does. Relatively few thugs disrupting a speech and even physically assaulting a professor don’t call into question the culture’s support for free speech, but Middlebury offering weak slaps on the wrist and shrugs for that violent behavior does. A violent mob in Berkeley does not undermine the legitimacy of free speech doctrine — a mob is a mob — but Berkeley’s timorousness or indifference in the face of violent censorship does. Students furious at a professor disagreeing with them don’t call into question the nation’s commitment to freedom, but state officials refusing to guarantee a professor’s safety do. In short: the regrettable behavior of officials who have failed to stand up to disruption of speech are the people most responsible for legitimizing further disruptions of speech, whoever commits them.”

——Lawyer/blogger/ free speech champion Ken White, writing about efforts on both the Left and the Right to interfere with or punish speech and opinions they don’t approve of.

Well and truly said, Ken.

Ken continues,

“But we can, and should, do better. Commitment to free speech as an American value — as an element of American exceptionalism — has always required tolerating evil and injustice and idiocy. We don’t refrain from disrupting speech because the speakers deserve it, or because we’ve been treated fairly by the speakers or their allies. We refrain from disruption — and ought to punish those who disrupt — because free speech is the necessary prerequisite of a society based on individual rights and freedoms. It’s the right that’s the gateway to all other rights. Shrugging and abandoning it as a value is an abandonment of our commitment to all rights.”

Why is this so hard to teach in colleges? Perhaps because the faculties and administrators prefer that their students never learn it.

Ethics Dunce: Northern Michigan University

"...but just shut the hell up abut it, or we'll have to suspend you.  Love, The Administration"

“…but just shut the hell up about it, or we’ll have to suspend you.
Love, The Administration”

Episodes like this, coming out of the wreckage we call higher education, raise at least three troubling questions:

1. If universities are this ignorant of the principle of free speech, why is anyone surprised that our younger generations are so willing to sacrifice it for political ends?

2. How can institutions run by administrators this immune to basic ethical decision-making reasoning be trusted to competently educate their students?

3. How many equally outrageous policies do schools inflict on their students that we don’t hear about?

Northern Michigan University installed threatens students with discipline if they share suicidal thoughts with other students.

FIRE, as usual, is on the case, and has written to the school to explain to them why this is abusive and a flagrant First Amendment violation. One student who had received a warning about her discussing about her suicidal feelings with her friends on campus, and was told not to have such conversations. She asked for clarification from Associate Dean of Students Mary Brundage, writing,

Just to clarify, the email said that if I spoke to students about it that it would create a distraction—which could create disciplinary action against me. . . . I was also wondering if I respond to concerned people, is that enough to get me in trouble? I do not want to worry others by not responding and I do not want to have the possibility of getting expelled by reaching out to my friends during this emotionally trying time and I see the possibility of misunderstanding or getting more concerned.

Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Marc Randazza at Popehat


“But, if academia actually meant anything, she would never have been hired in the first place. She should be sent back to weep over heteronormative cis-gendered oppression in Teletubbies, and leave teaching to adults. Are there any available? Can they get past the search committee?”

—Popehat’s Marc Randazza, reviewing the academic credentials of fired Mizzou communications professor Melissa Click, who famously grabbed a videographer’s camera while trying to block a reporter from covering a public protest at the University of Missouri, uttering the immortal words, “Hey, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here. I need some muscle over here!” The video and graphics like the one above launched a thousand memes.

Now that First Amendment firebrand Randazza has joined the equally sharp, funny and merciless Ken White, Popehat is a festival of joys for those who savor enlightenment and passion with a dash of acid. Marc is in top form in his second take-down of Click, who drew his fire for her response to being fired: Continue reading

Vote For Popehat’s Censorious Asshat Of The Year!


One of the best and most provocative blogs is Popehat, which has had a momentous year. Besides being its usual passionate and quirky self, the libertarian/free speech/legal/nerd website has also added Marc Randazza to its ranks. Marc (Full disclosure: he is a law school classmate, though if I ever met him face to face, I don’t remember) who shares Popehat Master of the House Ken White’s love of justice and creative invective and is also a superb lawyer, will alter the tone there a bit as well as be his opinionated,thoughtful, often hilarious self.

Popehat is offering a reader poll to determine the Censorious Asshat of the Year. I know that an ethics blog with the proclivities of Ethics Alarms is a little like a Macy’s Santa sending shoppers to Gimbels, but it’s Christmastime, and besides, there’s no competition in ethics, just futility. As it happens, only three of the 12 nominees made it into Ethics Alarms last year. I was aware of all of them, but my purview is a bit broader than Popehat’s; for whatever reason, they were in my range  but I decided to use my bullets elsewhere.

Go here, and help a worthy blog crown a worthy free speech-hating jerk and or jerks.

I bet you’ll be able to guess my vote.

Ethics Alarms Reminder: Don’t Forget About The Links…

Homemade-Sausage-Recipes jpg

Those links to other websites on the left are seldom accessed, I suppose because most blogs accumulate them on a quid pro quo basis: link to me, and I’ll link to you. Ethics Alarms doesn’t do that. If the link is there, it’s because I use the site to identify ethics issues or as an information resource. I don’t remove links because a site has removed mine or refuses to link to this one; I don’t take revenge on bloggers who write nasty things about me, either.

This isn’t personal, it’s just ethics.

I’ve been meaning to highlight some of the links for a long time, so readers might be moved to check them out. I assume you are familiar with the news aggregation sites, right, left and center, that I use the most: Mediaite, Politico, Drudge, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Google News, Think Progress, memeorandum, and Fark (great for teacher scandals!), as well as the ones that I don’t use, because they are either too biased to trust or have proved untrustworthy, like Breitbart, Buzzfeed, Gawker and The Daily Kos. (I am close to abandoning the Daily Caller as well.) Here are eleven links you should explore; I’ll have other lists of links for you now and then: Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Old Dominion University Signa Nu Fraternity Freakout

It is times like this when I wonder if my theory that ethics evolves toward wisdom may be excessively optimistic.

In Norfolk, Virginia, Old Dominion University officials went bananas when a fraternity engaged in randy verbal hijinks of questionable taste at its off-campus home across the street from the institution. ( “Hijinks of questionable taste” is synonymous with “acted like a fraternity.”) Some frat boys hung painted bedsheets as banners to welcome incoming freshmen co-eds, thusly:



ODU’s leadership responded to the tomfoolery by issuing the following statement:

“Messages like the ones displayed yesterday by a few students on the balcony of their private residence are not and will not [be] tolerated. The moment University staff became aware of these banners, they worked to have them removed. At ODU, we foster a community of respect and dignity, and these messages sickened us. They are not representative of our 3,000 faculty and staff, 25,000 students, and 130,000 alumni.

Ours is a community that works actively to promote bystander intervention and takes a stand denouncing violence against women. The ‘It’s on Us’ video is just one example of ODU students’ leadership on this topic. In addition, the University ensures all students receive education on the prevention of sexual harassment and relationship violence.”

Old Dominion’s Student Government Association also issued their own verbal condemnation of the incident. They filmed a video directly addressing the banners and stated: Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Ken White of Popehat

First Amendment“…Our freedoms are recognized or denied based on court rulings. Our understanding of those court rulings often derives from media coverage of them. When we do a lousy job of covering law, or when we put up with journalists doing so, we’re doing a lousy job as citizens.”

—-Attorney-Blogger Ken White, after meticulously exposing how the media, old and new, completely misrepresented a Texas court’s striking down  an overly broad statute as protecting “upskirt” photographs.

Ken White has delivered another masterpiece, expertly debunking the news media’s criminally ignorant analysis of a Texas Court opinion. I must admit, when I saw the headline “Texas Court: Ban on ‘Upskirt’ Photos Violates First Amendment Rights” and its ilk around the web, I just assumed that reporters were being sensational and dumb as usual, and moved on to other things. Thank goodness Ken was on the case, and properly flagged the danger in lawyers reacting this way. We have a tendency as a profession to think, “Well, there they go again, completely misunderstanding the law, poor dears” when we should be working overtime to set the record straight. I admonish my seminar attendees for doing this regarding the public’s distorted view of legal ethics, and fell into the same trap myself.

Ken’s dissection of the flat-out wrong reporting on this case is frightening: it is clear that most reporters are incapable of understanding what court opinions mean, yet there they are, writing nonsense and making the public more ignorant, not to mention making them think taking upskirt photographs is legal and constitutionally protected.

Counselor White has had a busy year that has kept him from providing his usual volume of daily enlightenment. He is back in top form, and we should all be grateful.


Bergen Community College Shows Us Why Justin Carter Is Being Persecuted

Can't have this. Terrifying. Dangerous.

Can’t have this. Terrifying. Dangerous.

Remember Justin Carter? Last I checked, he was being tried for making a joke on Facebook, because of the culture of fear and speech monitoring created by the irresponsible hysteria over guns and terrorism.  He faces prison time. That this is a freedom-suffocating societal illness that threatens any and all of us is chronicled in Ken White account, and accompanying commentary, on the astonishing mistreatment of Bergen Community College Professor Francis Schmidt by the school, which was sent into a frenzy of terror because he posted to Google+ “a cute picture of his young daughter wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt in a yoga pose next to a cat.”  Inside Higher Ed reports what happened next: Continue reading

The Answer To Popehat’s Web Shaming Ethics Quiz it unfair to point out that tweeters who called the 2013 Miss America a terrorist and "not American enough" because of the color of her skin are bigoted morons? Let me think... it unfair to point out that tweeters who called the 2013 Miss America a terrorist and “not American enough” because of the color of her skin are bigoted morons? Let me think…

Popehat virtuoso Ken White has posed what we would call on Ethics Alarms an ethics quiz on the topic of web shaming. Is it ethical to post the embarrassing tweets of non-celebrities and public figures for the purpose widespread and national ridicule? Ken lays out the Pros and Cons thusly (these are direct quotes):


1. It’s entertaining. Human frailty is the oldest and most consistent funny subject. People who are constantly incensed at brown people and can’t tell Arabs from Muslims from Indians are foolish and foolishness is amusing.

2. It’s whistling past the graveyard. Bigotry exists; ridiculing bigots is a mild act of defiance.

3. It’s supportive. Bigots exist; ridiculing and calling them out tells people subject to bigotry that we support them.

4. It’s a pressure release. The ability to ridicule bigots publicly reduces pressure to make the government regulate speech.

5. It’s socially transformative. Ridiculing bigots causes people to rethink being bigots.

6. It’s Darwinian. Twitter and Facebook, aided by Google, help those of us who hire employees distinguish between morons and people of normal intelligence.

Con: Continue reading

A Ken White Sampler

Obama maskFor those readers who are not familiar with Popehat’s Ken White, I offer this recent example of his deft ethics analysis and his perceptive and balanced commentary. I was going to write something that would have reached similar conclusions, but there is no point now. I can’t do better than this, and when I can do as well, it’s a good day.

Here is Ken’s commentary on the rodeo clown in the Obama mask.