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Free Speech @ MIT

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people things they do not want to hear."

Paul Craig
Paul Craig
4 min read
Free Speech @ MIT

On December 21, 2022, the faculty of Massachusetts Institute of Technology approved a "Free Expression Statement" (link below) by a vote of 98 to 22.

I've added three excerpts below which I believe are the essential points of the statement. You can read the entire statement if you desire and reach your own conclusions as to the core arguments.

MIT does not protect direct threats, harassment, plagiarism, or other speech that falls outside the boundaries of the First Amendment. Moreover, the time, place, and manner of protected expression, including organized protests, may be restrained so as not to disrupt the essential activities of the Institute.
At the same time, MIT deeply values civility, mutual respect, and uninhibited, wide-open debate. In fostering such debate, we have a responsibility to express ourselves in ways that consider the prospect of offense and injury and the risk of discouraging others from expressing their own views. This responsibility complements, and does not conflict with, the right to free expression. Even robust disagreements shall not be liable to official censure or disciplinary action. This applies broadly.
A commitment to free expression includes hearing and hosting speakers, including those whose views or opinions may not be shared by many members of the MIT community and may be harmful to some. This commitment includes the freedom to criticize and peacefully protest speakers to whom one may object, but it does not extend to suppressing or restricting such speakers from expressing their views. Debate and deliberation of controversial ideas are hallmarks of the Institute’s educational and research missions and are essential to the pursuit of truth, knowledge, equity, and justice.
Free Expression Statement adopted by the MIT faculty 12/21/22 | freespeech@mit

The first thing about the First Amendment that most do not grasp is that there are limitations. Those that do not grasp this fact are generally a form of absolutist whose common sense is minimal to nonexistent or who are in need of psychiatric treatment. Or a combination of both. I'll leave it to the professionals to develop diagnostic criteria for the spectrum between the two.

There is a very high likelihood these limitations will factor in certain forthcoming civil and criminal trials in 2023. It certainly did in many criminal trials in 2022. (Insert smirking emoji here.)

Wikipedia provides a lengthy yet not comprehensive list of situations in which free speech isn't 100% free.

For example, the First Amendment does not protect anyone if they make a threat against the President of the United States.

Under Title 18 Section 871 of the United States Code it is illegal to knowingly and willfully make "any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the president of the United States." This also applies to any "President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect." This law is distinct from other forms of true threats because the threatener does not need to have the actual capability to carry out the threat, meaning prisoners can also be charged.
– Wikipedia, United States free speech exceptions

The penalty is rather severe. It's a Class D felony carrying a punishment of up to five years in prison, a maximum $250,000 fine, three years of supervision after release and a $100 special assessment (whatever the hell that is.)

In short, don't do that.

If you do, men in dark suits will eventually appear at your doorstep with a pair of handcuffs. If you do not think the authorities will act, I'll give you a moment to consider the case of Brian Dean Miller.

Man who threatened to kill Obama sentenced to two years in prison
Brian Dean Miller, who threatened to kill Barack Obama in a posting on Craiglist, sentenced to 27 months in prison without parole
Man who threatened to kill Obama sentenced to two years in prison

Back to the "Free Expression Statement"....

MIT is clearly stating it will not protect exceptions to the First Amendment. But it is also stating that if a member of the faculty or a guest expresses a position that is protected by the First Amendment, MIT will not officially censure or discipline them.

The faculty of MIT clarified their position on free speech and brought it more into alignment with the words of an expert on freedom of expression and totalitarianism.

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people things they do not want to hear.
– George Orwell

The MIT statement is a simultaneous act of careful, considerate balance and a swing back to a more moderate position.

Say what you wish. Express your opinion. Debate the topic. Keep it civil. Don't break the law in the process.

Now with the statement made and passed, we wait to see if MIT will actually and consistently align their actions (or lack thereof) with their words.

If that does indeed happen, it will indeed be rare behavior in today's society.

Paul Craig Twitter

Father. Husband. Practicing Stoic. 30+ years Printing and Substrate Technology. One step at a time.