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Opinion: How to do good, badly

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We love the First Amendment, but we wish it were conditional. That is the crux of every true argument in American politics. It is the starting point for every banned book, every censored document or lesson plan, every stolen and destroyed newspaper. We love the First Amendment, but we wish it were conditional. In particular, each of us wishes we could decide those conditions. There are times when we know that we know best, and that such knowledge ought to supercede someone else’s freedom of speech or expression. Nobody has ever censored anything when they believed they were wrong.

This week saw the public emergence of a campus group called “FUCKRAPECULTRE,” an organization which is requesting that the university mandate sexual consent education for Greek life, athletics, and at freshman orientation, mandate sexual harassment training for student workers, and make guarantees that victims of sexual assault will not be prosecuted if they were drinking at the time of their assault. These initiatives are simple and perfectly admirable. But many people not closely involved with the group probably know them for something else— a petition drive to ban the song “Blurred Lines” from Ohio University.

The petition was spearheaded by Honors Tutorial College Student Senator Allie Erwin, who previously wrote a letter to The Post which resulted in the last-minute decision that the Marching 110 would not to perform the song at the halftime show. It is unclear who instructed whom to make this decision. When I spoke with Sen. Erwin over Facebook on Tuesday, the day after the petition first appeared, I found her decidedly uninterested in talking about the subject.

“If you have questions about what we are trying to do more broadly, I or Claire Chadwick would be more than happy to talk more about it,” she said. “But I don’t have anything more to say about the blurred lines initiative.”

With that declaration, I chose to end the conversation, as it seemed Sen. Erwin would be unwilling to consider my follow-up questions. Questions like, what governing body will mandate such a ban? How will such a ban be enforced, and who will enforce it? What will the punishment be for a student who plays the song? Or hums or sings it? How will the University prevent the song from coming on the radio? Will more songs be banned? Or perhaps books, movies and lesson plans? Perhaps these questions have perfectly reasonable answers, but they were not provided in the language of the petition which stated its only purpose as to ban the song from OU’s public spaces.

It appears, based on the conversations and comments on the “FUCKRAPECULTURE” Facebook page, that the “Petition to Ban Blurred Lines” is now seen by members of the group as something in between a noble and worthy effort and a distraction bordering on mistake. In one comment, Sen. Erwin says “I guess I am just struggling to get the other issues recognized as our main reason for existence.” In her conversation with me, Erwin emphatically stated “We are NOT about banning songs.”

I would be inclined to believe such a statement, if it were not contradictory to the group’s actions.

Truly upsetting is that I must say these things about a group whose mission I wholeheartedly support. As someone who genuinely believes in the First Amendment, however, I cannot allow the merits and necessity of such a mission to cloud the facts of this initiative. As some have pointed out, the right to petition is also protected under the First Amendment. However, in this case, the petition itself is not the problem, the problem is what the petition hopes to achieve. This petition calls an action that would clearly violate the freedom of speech and expression that all students possess.

The liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment are unconditional and are blind to the purity or righteousness of any mission. That blindness is the best and worst thing about the amendment. To suggest that any governing body, including the administration of OU, may disregard those liberties if such disregard is supported by significant or majority opinion, is dangerous. It’s just bad politics. And so for this week, FUCKRAPECULTURE becomes just another lesson in how to do good badly.

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