Category Archives: Individual liberties

George Orwell Call Home

Nina Jankowitz

by James C. Sherlock

This blog, while proudly based in individual research, often offers controversial ideas.

Uniform agreement is not expected. Debate is encouraged. We learn from one another and even occasionally change a few minds on both sides.

Yesterday the Biden administration announced the establishment of a federal “Disinformation Governance Board” in the Department of Homeland Security to “combat online disinformation in the 2022 midterms.”

Seriously. It was disclosed yesterday afternoon by Secretary Mayorkas in his testimony on Capitol Hill.

You will not be shocked to learn that neither The Washington Post nor The New York Times has yet covered the story. I just checked. Yet it represents a bigger threat to our nation than Russia and China. And it lives within the Department of Homeland Security. Continue reading

Youngkin Signs Donor-Privacy Bill

In recent years, “cancel culture” has targeted many individuals, businesses, and organizations with the intention of silencing them into submission. In one tactic, political activists target or hack donor lists of groups they disagree with and publicly shame or intimidate donors and/or their businesses who expected that their gifts would be kept private. For example, some donors to the Canadian truckers’ Freedom Convoy had their gifts made public, and the givers were subjected to public shaming, in some cases costing them their reputations and livelihoods.

To remedy this, the General Assembly passed HB 970 and Governor Glenn Youngkin signed it April 11.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Zack Pruitt had this to say about the signing Monday of HB 970, a bill that protects the private information of individuals who support charities and other nonprofit organizations of their choice: Continue reading

Virginia Is Not for Weed Lovers… But Maybe Soon

Table credit: LawnStarter

by James A. Bacon

LawnStarter has listed 2022’s Best Cities to Get Stoned, ranking nearly 100 of  the biggest U.S. cities where recreational marijuana use is legal. Alexandria is the only one in Virginia that ranks in the top half. Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Newport News, and Chesapeake all rank in the bottom eight.

The ranking is based on access to dispensaries, head shops, consumption lounges, and cannabis-friendly lodging, as well as the availability of tours and events and even munchie relief (fast food), among other factors. Continue reading

Free Speech Lives at the University of Virginia!

by James A. Bacon

Former Vice President Mike Pence came to the University of Virginia last night, attended two receptions, and delivered his speech, billed as “How to Save America from the Woke Left,” without a hitch.

The Pence event created a national stir when the editorial board of The Cavalier Daily student newspaper said that Pence should not be allowed to speak because his conservative views would prove offensive and hurtful to many. The editorial generated a tidal wave of response in support of Pence’s right to give the speech and students’ right to hear it. Seventeen faculty members of diverse political views signed a letter in defense of the speech. President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom published an op-ed in a higher-ed trade journal defending free speech.

Political science professor Larry Sabato, perhaps UVa’s best known faculty member, has been highly critical of President Donald Trump, but he hosted a reception for Trump’s vice president in a pavilion on the Lawn before the speech. The veep attended a second reception across the Lawn, hosted by the Young America’s Foundation, which, in partnership with The Jefferson Council, underwrote the cost of the event.

It was a pleasant spring evening, and throngs of students were hanging out on the Lawn, but there was no unpleasantness to be seen. The University had created an area where protesters could gather, which a modest number did, but they were peaceful and barely noticed by the hundreds of visitors as they lined up for security checks outside Old Cabell Hall. Continue reading

UVa Has Issues, But At Least It Is Not Yale

by James A. Bacon

On March 10 the Federalist Society, a group promoting conservative/libertarian principles in law schools, hosted a panel discussion at Yale Law about freedom of religion and speech. About 120 student protesters descended upon the event, shouted down the speakers, and then, after repeated warnings, continued their noisy demonstration in the hallway. In the aftermath, more than 400 law students, about 60% of the student body, signed an open letter voicing support for the protesters and assailing the presence of armed police. While the protesters were excessively loud and “engaged in rude and insulting behavior,” wrote Law School Dean Heather Gerken, they did not violate the school’s “three-warning protocol.” Heated debate over the contours of free speech continues to this day.

At the University of Virginia, by contrast, the Federalist Society held a symposium on the topic, “The Federalists Vs. the Anti-Federalists: Revisiting the Founding Debates.” The event went off without a hitch. There were no protests, no open letters, and no need for statements by the dean.

The exercise of free speech and free expression leaves very much to be desired at the University of Virginia, but students, parents, faculty and alumni can console themselves: at least UVa is not Yale. (Which is fairly ironic, given the fact that President Jim Ryan, Provost Ian Baucom, and law school Dean Risa Goluboff all hold Yale degrees.) Continue reading

UVa, Defend Your Women!

Letter to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors from Walter Smith.

Now that International Transgender Day of Visibility is behind us, it is safe to discuss your lack of visibility in the matter regarding UVa student Emma Weyant, who, in the world where reality and truth are valued, is the true women’s NCAA 500 freestyle swimming champion. None of you has spoken out regarding the injustice of her loss of the 1st-place trophy to a transgendered individual, Lia Thomas — a silence, I suspect, that arises from your terror of woke intersectionalists.

The only statement I have seen from any UVa official was a quote in The Jefferson Independent, in which President Jim Ryan bravely stated, “I’m not an expert on this and I haven’t been following it as closely as others… I have to say it seems unfair to me, at a very basic level.”

Wow! What clarity of thought! What bold leadership! I now see how Ryan was selected to lead Thomas Jefferson’s University — to make it Great and Good as only he can! Continue reading

Policies at War With Themselves

UVa President Jim Ryan

by James A. Bacon

University of Virginia President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom have finally begun to engage in a discussion about university “cancel culture.” In the abstract, they’re against it. Their latest musings represent a step beyond the mere protection of free speech, which the Board of Visitors had endorsed previously, toward respectful engagement of people with different views.

“We can teach our students not only about the right to free speech but also how to be empathetic speakers and generous listeners,” they wrote in the higher-ed trade publication Inside Higher Education. “We should teach them to dismantle arguments, not people.”

UVa Provost Ian Baucom

They even go so far as to acknowledge the value of entertaining a wide variety of viewpoints in academia. “Colleges and universities … could stand to be more intellectually diverse than they are, just as they could stand to be more racially and socioeconomically diverse.”

These are fine sentiments, and the critics of UVa — and higher education in Virginia generally — should welcome them. There may be reason to hope that UVa, after an orgy of self-flagellation for its past, the renaming of buildings, the dismantling of statues, and the blackening of the name of Thomas Jefferson, will live up to the aspiration of its founder to “follow the truth wherever it might lead.” Continue reading

What Is Free Speech Without Intellectual Diversity?

by James A. Bacon

Eleven days ago the Editorial Board of the Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia student newspaper, opined that it could not condone the “platforming” of former Vice President Mike Pence by allowing him to speak on the university grounds.

The blowback has been gratifying to see.

While some students have expressed support for suppressing ideas deemed hateful and hurtful, others have denounced the editorial. Crucially, UVa President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom weighed in in favor of free speech, stating in a CD piece that “all views, beliefs, and perspectives deserve to be articulated and heard, free from interference.”

Let us praise the Ryan administration when plaudits are due. But let us also recognize that at UVa “free speech” is a sub-set of a larger issue: an ever-narrowing range of permissible viewpoints. Threats to free speech spring from intellectual monocultures, which is exactly what UVa is becoming. A defense of free speech would not be necessary in a university that fostered more intellectual diversity. Continue reading

Even Loathsome People Have the Right to Free Speech

Steven Salaita

by James A. Bacon

I’m very pro-Israel, which like every country on the planet is flawed but is more committed than most to democracy and human rights. Likewise, I have little sympathy for Palestinians, whom I regard as, for the most part, the authors of their own miseries. Therefore, I am inclined to take a dim view of someone like Steven Salaita, a far-left scholar of partial Palestinian descent, who courted controversy as a Virginia Tech professor several years ago when he refused to endorse the “Support our Troops” slogan, and later got himself unhired from the University of Illinois after posting a series of anti-Semitic (or anti-Zionist, if you will) tweets.

But as repellant as Salaita’s views may be to me personally, others want to hear them. That includes organizers of the Graduate and Professional Student Research Symposium (GPSS) at Virginia Tech, an event that provides visibility for graduate-student research. I cannot fathom why they would want to give a platform to someone with Salaita’s views, but they do.

Now some Jewish students at Virginia Tech want to dis-invite him. “Steven Salaita does not promote respectful or healthy dialogue,” Briana Schwam, president emerita of Hillel at Virginia Tech and a GPSS senator told Jewish News Syndicate. “[His] public statements threaten my identity as a student because he promotes hate and violence towards individuals who share my identity or who do not share his exact perspective.” Continue reading

EVMS Settles Free-Speech Lawsuit for 38K

Edward Si. Photo credit: FIRE

The Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) has reached a settlement with medical student Edward Si over a lawsuit filed after the school prohibited him from forming a Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP) club. The medical school will pay Si and SNaHP $38,000. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) represented Si.

In December 2020, Si formed the chapter, but the EVMS Student Government Association denied the application for recognition on the grounds that SGA  did not want to approve clubs “based on opinions” — even though it had provided recognition to Medical Students for Choice. The day after FIRE filed a lawsuit, Si received notification that the club had been approved. Continue reading

The Mental Anguish Veto

by James A. Bacon

As the debate over de-platforming former Vice President Mike Pence plays out in the pages of the University of Virginia student newspaper, a recent column illuminates, albeit unwitting, the complex interplay between mental illness, sexual orientation, fragility, and intolerance toward views people find uncomfortable.

Mental illness is rampant in American society today, especially in the so-called Generation Z. An increasing prevalence of anxiety and depression has emerged as a major challenge facing colleges and universities in Virginia, and across the United States. A month ago, students at James Madison University staged an occupation of Alumni Hall. Their demands: more resources and special allowances for students suffering from mental illness. UVa is no exception to this trend.

The anxiety and depression experienced by young people are very real, and those who suffer deserve our sympathy and support. But their anguish does not give them the right to cancel the rights of others.

Within that context, a young woman wrote a letter to The Cavalier Daily expressing her reasons for wanting to ban Pence from the Grounds. I do not use her name because I do not want to expose her to ridicule or otherwise add to the burdens she bears. Her story, though, is telling. Continue reading

Speech on Virginia Campuses Less Unfree than Elsewhere

Free speech sign in front of George Mason statue at GMU.

by James A. Bacon

Three of Virginia’s universities scored in the top 25 in the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) 2021 annual free speech rankings of more than 150 higher-ed institutions across America, but Virginia Tech, once in the top 10, fell precipitously to the bottom third.

The College of William & Mary ranked 10th for free speech, George Mason University 12th, and the University of Virginia 22nd. Virginia Tech ranked 107th.

The rankings are relative. W&M, GMU and UVa score well compared to other institutions. Nevertheless, a significant percentage of students at all three institutions express discomfort with discussing controversial ideas and question the commitment of their university administrations to support free speech. With free speech and free expression under attack everywhere, it can be argued that Virginia institutions are the least bad of a bad lot.

Also, it is important to note that FIRE surveyed students, not faculty or staff. The findings do not reflect the disturbing trend at many higher-ed institutions — including UVa and W&M — of requiring job applicants and employees to submit written statements describing their commitment to the principles of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion as part of their evaluations. Continue reading

School Threat Assessment Teams Revisited

by James C. Sherlock

I wrote on February 12 of this year about what I consider an indicator of a potential overreach by the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).  FCPS security has published an RFP for corporate support for web search to support its threat assessment team.

Since that article, I have conducted extensive email exchange with Donna Michaelis, Director of the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety at the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). She is a dedicated public servant responsible for policy in this area. She gave me a lot of her time. It has proven an informative exchange and I thank her for it.

I see three gaps in current law and policy on school threat assessment teams.

They both set school divisions up to make mistakes that may possibly compromise any case that may be built against an actual threat and can permit them to overreach on matters that they should leave to law enforcement:

  1. Virginia law and policy fail to define roles and responsibilities
    1. on school threat assessment teams between law enforcement and school system personnel on the teams; and
    2. between school systems and law enforcement agencies.
  2. They set no clear limits on what types of “individuals” are within the scope of school investigations.
  3. Finally, there is no requirement that the school division threat assessment oversight teams as currently constituted under Virginia law have the expertise to deal with the legal complexities involved.

Continue reading

No Exceptions to the Free Exercise Clause

by Deborah Hommer

Many states, including Virginia, have a religious exemption to the requirement of vaccines based upon sincerely held religious beliefs. However, Virginia’s exemption has a big hole. The Code of Virginia (§ 32.1-48) states that during epidemics the state Commissioner of Health can mandate vaccinations for “all persons” except those whose health might be compromised.

HB 306 introduced by Delegate Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, would amend the code to maintain the religious exemption during epidemics. The bill passed out of the Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee 12-9. Now it heads to the House.

States, Congress, and the Supreme Court have a long history of protecting the Free Exercise Cause that is contained in the First Amendment. The Supreme Court case Abington School District v. Schempp determined, “The Free Exercise Clause . . . withdraws from legislative power, state and federal, the exertion of any restraint on the free exercise of religion. Its purpose is to secure religious liberty in the individual by prohibiting any invasions there by civil authority.” Continue reading

UVa Free Speech Committee Could Use Some Transparency

UVa President James Ryan

by Walter Smith

In February of 2021 University of Virginia President Jim Ryan appointed a committee to articulate the university’s commitment to free speech and free inquiry. With great fanfarethe Board of Visitors “unequivocally” endorsed the tepid, politically correct statement on June 4, 2021.

On June 7, 2021, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to see all documents used by, or submitted to, the Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry. “I would expect this to include, without limitation, submissions from faculty and students, the agendas and minutes from the meetings of the Committee, any submissions from Committee members and any outside groups,” I specified. “Essentially, if any document was before the Committee, from any source, I would like it produced.”

To make a long story short, it is nearly eight months later and I have seen only a fraction of the documents. UVa has withheld them on the grounds that, even though Ryan was not a member of the Committee, they are the president’s “working papers.” Continue reading