Category Archives: Individual liberties

Alumni Groups File Amicus Brief in Virginia Tech Free Speech Case

by James A. Bacon

The Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA) and alumni groups from nine colleges and universities, including The Jefferson Council, submitted an  amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday urging the court to hear a case brought by Speech First over the issue of bias reporting practices and procedures at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

“The use of bias reporting systems has become pervasive across American college and university campuses and these systems create a climate of fear and intimidation that causes many students to self-censor and discourages constitutionally protected speech,” said AFSA President Charles Davis. “These bias reporting systems have no place at a university whose defining purpose as a place of learning and human fulfillment can only be achieved through a steadfast commitment to free speech.”

From the brief:

Rather than adopting explicitly punitive speech codes or conditioning participation in university life on acceptance of prevailing views, colleges such as Respondent created “bias response” systems. Continue reading

Thunder in the Pulpits

by Michael Giere

“But this was not always so. In fact, for much of our history, it has been just the opposite. Godly men and women who were fearless, bold, strong, and savvy have been central to the American experience.”

There has never been anything in history like the US Constitution, signed on September 17, 1787. It is the crown jewel of human advancement and bids freedom not for some but for all. It stands alone, enshrining and paying homage to the core reality of man’s existence – that the dignity and rights of every person and their personal freedom don’t come from the word or works of an impermanent ruler, a mob, or government but from the permanent promise of the Creator.

The Constitution began with a convention and 55 delegates from the newly-free Colonies called to modify the Articles of Confederation. It became a convention that would reshape history. Influential members such as James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington, among others, were convicted that the Confederation needed a stronger national government, and the Convention settled on Mr. Madison’s Virginia Plan as a starting document to replace the Articles of Confederation. Continue reading

Don’t Get Too Fired Up About UVa’s FIRE Ranking

by Allan Stam

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently gave the University of Virginia a 6th-place ranking in a national survey assessing the state of free speech on college campuses. Provost Ian Baucom cited the recognition during Wednesday’s Board of Visitors meeting, noting that it was the highest ranking the university had ever achieved.

UVa’s high score suggests to some the existence of a robust culture of open dialogue and intellectual freedom at UVa. However, a closer examination of the underlying data reveals a more nuanced and troubling picture.

UVa’s overall score was a mere 68 out of 100, a grade that would be considered failing in many academic and household settings. This discrepancy between the overall ranking and the actual score raises questions about the survey’s methodology. It casts doubt on the true state of free speech at UVA and perhaps other highly ranked institutions.

UVa earned the high score primarily on the basis of its stated policies. President Jim Ryan, Provost Ian Baucom and the Board of Visitors have repeatedly endorsed free speech and viewpoint diversity in the past year. But official policies tell us little about actual practices or the cultural milieu in which students, faculty and staff interact.

When one digs a little deeper into the specific categories within the survey, the concerns become even more pronounced. UVa ranks alarmingly low in several key areas: 222nd in “Comfort Expressing Ideas,” 178th in “Disruptive Conduct,” and 188th in “Openness.” These rankings are not mere numbers; they represent a tangible reality where students feel uncomfortable expressing their ideas, where disruptive conduct stifles dialogue, and where a lack of openness hampers intellectual growth. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Governors

by Kerry Dougherty

Why is anyone surprised that the governor of New Mexico has decided that a spike in crime constitutes a public health emergency that warrants suspension of 2nd Amendment rights of the people to carry a firearm?

When Americans merrily surrendered their civil rights three years ago during a health emergency, could they not foresee a perpetual state of emergencies, with tyrannical despots infringing on constitutional rights using the flimsiest of excuses?

I hate to say “I told you so,” but some of us tried to sound the alarm in the winter of 2020, but too many Americans were hiding under their beds to listen to us.

Now this:

On Friday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, declared a public health emergency in Albuquerque and nearby Bernalillo County citing high crime rates and issued a 30-day ban on the carrying of firearms. She said she was likely to extend the order.

“I have emergency powers,” Grisham crowed. “Gun violence is an epidemic. Therefore, it’s an emergency!”

Never mind that of the five shooting incidents Grisham cited when suspending the Second Amendment, only two were in the Albuquerque area and chances are neither would have been thwarted by her unconstitutional ban. Continue reading

The Sorry State of the ACLU of Virginia

by Hans Bader

The communist activist Angela Davis advocated abolishing prisons in the U.S., while supporting the incarceration of political prisoners in totalitarian communist regimes overseas. The ACLU of Virginia has touted Angela Davis’s stances in the past, such as in an April 4, 2022 tweet  quoting Davis.

Now, the ACLU of Virginia has returned to promoting these extreme positions, in addition to new ones. In an August 7 post, the ACLU approvingly featured an image with the message “Abolish Prisons,” “Abolish White Supremacy,” and “No One Is Illegal On Stolen Land,” accompanied by a tweet agreeing with this sign, and saying “That’s right, NO ONE.”

We do not all live on stolen land, contrary to the claim made by some left-wingers. A great deal of land was voluntarily sold to settlers by Native Americans. Law professor Stuart Banner’s book How the Indians Lost Their Land explains this. Some land changed hands through “consensual transactions,” and other land through “violent conquest.”

Banner is a mainstream, well-respected academic at UCLA Law School who may have been surprised by what he discovered about the large scope of voluntary transfers of land from Native Americans to whites. But the large number of land sales by Native Americans makes sense because North America was a much emptier place after European diseases wiped out most of the Native American population, leaving many Native Americans with plenty of land even if they ceded some of it to white settlers.

The ACLU’s apparent call to “abolish prisons” is also misguided, because peer-reviewed academic studies show prisons prevent many violent crimes and property crimes. One such study is “The Incapacitation Effect of Incarceration: Evidence from Several Italian Collective Pardons,” which found that reducing incarceration increased the crime rate. This article was published in the American Economic Review, which is a peer-reviewed journal. Continue reading

The Latest Tool for Suppressing Unpopular Speech: Special Use Permits

by James A. Bacon

With considerable fanfare by Governor Glenn Youngkin, Armed Forces Brewing announced six days ago that it would relocate its headquarters from Annapolis, Md., to Norfolk, creating 47 local jobs. The company, which markets its beer by adopting a rough, often profane language prevalent in the military, says it will hire veterans for 70% of its workforce.

Good news, right?

Not for some people. Within days, opposition surfaced. Norfolk Councilwoman Andria McClellan has said Armed Forces may have a tough time getting business permits from the City Council, according to WHRO. The company’s offense? Supposed misogyny in its ads and anti-LGBQT+ statements by the president.

Misogyny? Apparently, CEO Rob O’Neill, a retired Navy SEAL, fired guns in an ad flanked by a woman in skimpy military-themed costumes. Continue reading

Where Does Freedom of Speech End?

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I have a question.

Under the recent Supreme Court case ruling that a wedding website designer could refuse to provide her services to a gay couple because to do so would require her to write something that she did not want to say, thereby violating her First Amendment right to free speech, if I were the owner of a sign shop could I refuse to make signs for Democratic candidates because I do not want Democrats to win elections and to require me to design a sign that says “Elect ______, Democrat for State Senate” would violate my freedom of speech?  What if I refused to make such signs for Black candidates because I don’t think Blacks should be elected to office?  Or women candidates?  Or Catholic candidates? Or Jewish Candidates?

Equal Protection, Affirmative Action and Effecting Generational Change

by James C. Sherlock

America is the most successful nation in the history of the world because of the freedoms and rights guaranteed by our Constitution.

More than a hundred other nations have emulated the American Constitution.

Without constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and rights, we would be chained to the whims of the state. Most immediately to the whims of the executive branch. There would be precious little for the judicial branch to protect.

A recent Supreme Court decision found affirmative action in college admissions to be unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment, Section 1:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Justice Roberts for the majority ruling that the Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause:

Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today.

Three justices disagreed.

Justice Sotomayor read her opinion from the bench — a sign of strong disagreement. An excerpt:

Today, this Court stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress. It holds that race can no longer be used in a limited way in college admissions to achieve such critical benefits. In so holding, the Court cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter.

Note that Justice Sotomayor, as always careful of the words in her opinions, chose “endemically” to modify “segregated.” Oxford dictionary: “regularly found and very common among a particular group or in a particular area.”

That is different than the word “systemically” — Oxford: “in a basic and important way that involves the whole of an organization or a country and not just particular parts of it.” Continue reading

What It Means to Be a Citizen

Photo credit: Financial Times

by James A. Bacon

The 4th of July, commemorating our nation’s declaration of independence, is an occasion to think about what we appreciate about America. Amidst our social breakdown, culture wars, and vitriolic politics, that’s not an easy thing to do. Among the most demoralizing aspects of our times is the abysmal level of understanding of the source of the precious rights — freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble and petition the government — that we take for granted.

As Joni Albrecht, director of the John Marshall Center for Constitutional History & Civics, observes in the Virginia Mercury, less than half of U.S. adults could name all three branches of government; only one in four U.S. adults could name a single right identified in the First Amendment.

Many of our schools fail to teach the basic knowledge required to be a functioning and contributing citizen. According to Virginia Department of Education data, only 70% of Virginia school children passed their Civics & Econ Standards of Learning exam in the 2021-22 school year. Only one in five scored “advanced.” In other words, 30% are politically illiterate, and another 50% are marginally literate. Continue reading

Culture Wars about College Admissions Tend to Ignore Guaranteed Entry from Virginia Community Colleges

by James C. Sherlock

Much angst has accompanied the Supreme Court’s decision banning overt racial preferences in admissions to colleges as violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

The conversations in the comments to Jim Bacon’s article on admissions were as split philosophically/politically as is anything else these days.

I will not rehash them.

But many of the comments seemed based on an unwritten assumption that a kid is blocked from higher education if not admitted into a four-year college out of high school.

That, if true, would indeed be a cruel fate. And headline-seeking race hustlers who tell such kids they have been permanently disadvantaged would have a point.

But such a tale is objectively and observably not true. Anyone who tells a kid that is lying, and lying unforgivably.

There are 250,000 Virginia students who prove the story false. Continue reading

Darkness Comes to Hokietown

by James A. Bacon

Wokeness is so all-pervasive in Virginia higher-ed that I cannot possibly keep readers abreast of it all. Today I settle for quoting the thoughts of others.

Today The Wall Street Journal op-ed section highlights litigation surrounding Virginia Tech’s Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT).

The advertising catchphrase “see something, say something” calls to mind suspicious packages that might be bombs. At Virginia Tech, that slogan applies to the school’s official Bias Intervention and Response Team, or BIRT. Hokies are encouraged to report one another’s ill-considered opinions or crass jokes. On May 31 the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to end this, but a dissent by veteran Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III is a persuasive signal flare for the Supreme Court to take the case and defend free speech.

Read the whole editorial. Even better, if you have the time, read Wilkinson’s minority opinion on the litigation. Some excerpts: Continue reading

School Boards, Model Policies and Parental Rights in the Raising of Children

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginia Beach School Board will vote tomorrow.

The announced subject will be transgender rights in schools.

It is couched by The Virginian-Pilot as the school board defending transgender students against “unnecessarily cruel policies.  As opposed, one supposes, to necessarily cruel policies.

The local paper refers, of course, to the Youngkin administration’s “Model Policies” on the subject. Which, like their predecessors from the Northam administration, are not mandatory, so need not be debated at all.

The School Board debate is at its core constitutional.

You will note that the Youngkin Model Policies linked its constitutional interpretations to court decisions. The Northam version did not. Northam’s just asserted what the constitution meant. Must have been an oversight.

My take:

  • Families are responsible for shaping the values, beliefs, and personalities of children;
  • Government is required to protect children from abuse and neglect. But government schools are not allowed to substitute their judgements on values and beliefs for those of the families;
  • They are most certainly not permitted to define parental moral or political disagreements with school personnel as emotional abuse at home. Or as harassment of government schools or teachers;
  • And government schools, absent evidence of abuse or neglect, must never be allowed to substitute their own moral judgments for those of parents.

But that’s just me. Not a lawyer. Continue reading

Back in Vogue at UVa: Viewpoint Diversity

Douglas Wetmore

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia leadership normally keeps its Board of Visitors meetings running on such a tightly scripted schedule that board members rarely get an opportunity to engage in free-wheeling discussion. But Rector Whitt Clement and President Jim Ryan made an exception Friday during the board’s June meeting: they set aside nearly an hour to talk about Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

Board member Douglas Wetmore, a Richmond businessman appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin, set the tone as soon as the discussion began. On paper the administration values “viewpoint diversity” along with demographic and other forms of diversity, he noted. But unlike the meticulous statistics it compiles on the racial and gender breakdown of students, faculty, and staff, he said, the university does not track viewpoint diversity at all.

“We want a wide range of competing ideas,” Wetmore said. “One hundred percent of statistics are related to race and gender. I haven’t seen one reflecting viewpoint diversity,” he said.

While a few board members suggested that viewpoint diversity was not a serious issue at UVa, the ensuing discussion revolved mainly around how to define viewpoint diversity, how much of such diversity was desirable, and how to measure it while respecting individuals’ right to privacy.

The Board conversation was unprecedented at UVa, where the DEI bureaucracy dedicated to advancing the interests of “marginalized” minorities has grown to 55 employees by the university’s own count. Continue reading

Martin Brown Is Absolutely Correct: To Achieve Real Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, “DEI” Must Die

by J. Kennerly Davis

Martin Brown, a senior aide to Governor Glenn Youngkin, created quite a stir when he told an audience at the Virginia Military Institute that “DEI is dead.” Democrats in politics and the media jumped on the remark, and the Governor’s support of Brown, to assert that the Youngkin administration is hostile to policies and programs that foster diversity, equity, and inclusion. The partisan criticism is baseless. Martin Brown is correct. For Virginia to effectively foster diversity, equity, and inclusion, DEI must die.  

Every system of government is based upon an idea, a fundamental concept for its organization and operation, a proposition. Most times, the idea has been small, shabby, uninspiring, and authoritarian. Ultimate authority has been held by a ruling class. The rights of individuals have been understood to be nothing more than malleable artifacts, with their scope and substance and tenure entirely dependent upon the changeable determinations and dispensations of the ruling class.

But sometimes, the idea for a system of government is a grand one, exceptional, inspiring, revolutionary. The idea of America is a grand idea: the revolutionary proposition that all persons are created equal, endowed by their Creator with inherent dignity and unalienable rights; the revolutionary proposition that the only rightful purpose of government, the legitimizing purpose, is to recognize, respect, and protect the shared sacred humanity, inherent dignity, and natural rights of the people;  the revolutionary proposition that the people shall rule, and each shall be able to think and speak and worship and associate freely; the revolutionary proposition that a richly diverse people can form a strongly united nation, e pluribus unum. That is a grand idea!

For more than a hundred years, the regressive authoritarians who wrongly style themselves “progressive” have worked to undermine the grand idea of America and replace it with their own very small idea: the counterrevolutionary proposition that an elitist ruling class of credentialed technocrats, infallible “experts,” should exercise unrestrained administrative power to define the rights, allocate the resources, and direct the affairs of the supposedly unenlightened masses under their paternalistic supervision. Continue reading

Read It and Weep – DEI at UVa

Navy helicopter overflies UVa Disharoon Park as team stands at attention for national anthem. Photos By Sanjay Suchak,

by James C. Sherlock

Kerry Daugherty’s column this morning was heart-wrenching for anyone who cares at all about kids’ educations.  The Norfolk School Board voted 6-1…

to begin teaching gender ideology, masturbation, sexual identity, homosexuality, abortion and lesbianism in middle and high schools.

To kids who cannot read or perform mathematics at grade level.

Now we get a look at what awaits any kid who escapes Norfolk public schools with sufficient skills and diversity credits to get accepted into the University of Virginia (UVa).

They will be welcomed by a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) bureaucracy so large, powerful and widely distributed that a DEI factotum will:

  • review and grade their application in the recruitment process;
  • exercise authority over the curriculum and faculty;
  • monitor their progress; and
  • interview each candidate for graduate school and meet with each annually to assess political views.

If I just told you how this works as above, you would think I was making it up.

So I will quote from UVa’s website. Continue reading