Freedom of Speech: Why Are Sex and Comedy Censored?

Should comedic and sexual speech be censored on college campuses? While universities often like to show themselves as being progressive by supporting sex-positive speech, they are also increasingly clamping down on sexually explicit speech, imagery and even jokes.

Countless examples abound, but at one college in Alaska, students were investigated for months for running an April Fool’s edition of the student newspaper discussing vagina-shaped buildings.

A second type of expression where norms were once very constrained, were then liberalized, and now seem to be going back in the Victorian direction is comedy. Famed comedian Lenny Bruce was sentenced to prison for his racy comedy act in the 1960s. But after he died, the right to offend in comedy became not only widely accepted, but expected.

This idea prevailed for several decades. However, the pendulum seems to be swinging back, particularly on college campuses. And this time, it is not the police or Feds who are demanding inoffensive comedy, it’s students. Even comedians as prominent as Chris Rock and the late, great George Carlin said that they didn’t like playing college campuses because these venues have become too uptight.

For the last few decades, the idea that you should not censor expression you dislike because one day you could be the censored seems to be falling on deaf ears on campus. This is because a generation of students seem incapable of imagining their own opinions ever being the target of the morality or thought police.

However, they only need visit another country or part of the world to understand how different the situation could be. Meanwhile, there are far better reasons for believing in free speech other than the fact that you could be next. The truest support of free speech is to defend those ideas and, yes, jokes and pictures that we may hate,  not out of concern for the protection for the ideas we love, but because we prefer to live in an open society rather than a closed one.