Friday, April 08, 2016

A Proper Model for Civil Disobedience

An incident in New York seems to provide an excellent model for those who wish to engage in civil disobedience.

Ted Cruz was invited to speak at Bronx Lighthouse College Preparatory Academy.

Several students responded with the following email to the administration:

Hello Ms. Duggins,

A group of students will be leaving during 4th period, as act of civil disobedience in regards to the arrival of Ted Cruz to BLCPA. We have all considered the consequences of our actions and are willing to accept them. We respect you and all the staff at BLCPA as well as the expected guests. But we want you to understand that as passionate students, we have ideas and principles that should be heard and respected. This walk out isn't a reflection of our discontent with BLCPA but our opportunity to stand up for our community and future. This walk out is taking place because we as students all share a common idea.

The presence of Ted Cruz and the ideas he stands for are offensive. His views are against ours and are actively working to harm us, our community, and the people we love. He is misogynistic, homophobic, and racist. He has used vulgar language, gestures, and profanity directed at a scholar and staff members, along with harassing and posing threats to staff and scholars according to the Disciplinary Referral slip. This is not to be taken kiddingly or as a joke. We are students who feel the need and right to not be passive to such disrespect.
Here are the rules of an act of civil disobedience:

(1) It is non-violent. Nobody is threatening to disrupt or interfere with others. Specifically, nothing in the action prevents Ted Cruz from speaking or others from listening.

(2) It is announced in advance. This is not an ambush or a surprise. The students declared in advance, "We will perform this act at this time for these reasons." As such, the act of civil disobedience is, itself, an act of communication.

(3) The students announced their intentions to face the consequences of their actions. They are not trying to get away with anything. This states that any disciplinary actions will be accepted without struggle or resistance.

As a result, Lighthouse Academies cancelled the visit.

I am not commenting on the decision to cancel the visit - that is a separate question. Whatever the merits of the decision, it cannot be reasonably taken as a violation of a right to freedom of speech.

The right to freedom of speech is a right to immunity from violence or threats of violence for things said or written. There is no threat of violence. The right to freedom of speech does not imply a right to visit Bronx Lighthouse College Preparatory Academy. Nor is it violated by cancelling such a visit. Lighthouse Academies has the liberty to set its own standards concerning who may visit and that standards that apply in making that choice.

This was well handled.


Nathan Nguyen said...

I'm not sure why you've included rule 3. If a policy were unjust, I think it would typically be ok to evade punishment for disobeying it. Why wouldn't it ok? Bryan Caplan has an insightful blog post on this:

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I am writing about an act of civil disobedience.

Civil disobedience involves more than just refusing to obey an unjust law. Civil disobedience is a communicative act - a way of sending a message. As such, it must be public. If it is public, then there is sufficient evidence for a conviction. Then, to count as civil disobedience, it must be civil. That is, the agent must show a respect for the laws generally, even while protesting a specific (perceived) injustice. This is done by accepting punishment.