Heckler’s Veto in Texas and an Apology at Duke

A heckler’s veto at Tarleton State University in Texas has stopped a class production of an excerpt of the Terence McNally play, Corpus Christi, which depicts Jesus and his disciples as homosexuals. Canceling the presentation was a mistake. It was made by a professor running his own class, not the university administration, which muddles the free-speech issue slightly. Still, it was an act of censorship made in response to threats. When a speaker or staged event draws threats, the job of an administration is to provide security, not to stand by and let a menacing crowd get its way. One of the protesters’ slogans was “Blasphemy is not free speech,” but of course it is. Sadly, Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst took the side of censorship, saying, “Every citizen is entitled to the freedom of speech, but no one should have the right to use government funds or institutions to portray acts that are morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans.” So the only plays allowed to be staged would be those morally approved by large numbers of Americans.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram got it right editorially: “Yes, the play’s premise is as offensive to some Christians as representing the prophet Muhammad as a dog is to some Muslims. But people in this country don’t have a constitutional right not to be offended.”
In an open letter, the president of Tarleton State, F. Dominic Tattovio, sounded the same note: “Like every citizen of the country, the student who chose to direct excerpts from the play enjoys his right to free speech. This right is protected by law even if the speech is offensive to others.”
On another censorship front, the Duke women’s center apologized today for cancelling a discussion on student motherhood on grounds that the sponsor of the event was holding a pro-life event elsewhere on campus. A representative of the center said, “I have taken steps to ensure that such an incident will not happen again.”


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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