- Randa Jarrar, a Fresno State professor, tweeted horrible things about Barbara Bush.
- Many have called on the university to fire her.
- Free-speech advocates should be working to defend her, whether or not they find her rhetoric abhorrent.
When conservative commentators are shouted down or otherwise prevented from speaking, conservatives are the first to rally and preach about the right to free speech.
So conservatives should also be the first to rally around Randa Jarrar, a Fresno State professor who responded to the news of former first lady Barbara Bush’s passing by tweeting some truly vile things.
Reasonable people can disagree about whether they admire or detest Bush’s legacy and the legacies of the men that she cherished and loved. What isn’t really up for debate, though, is the fact that Jarrar’s commentary was rude, incendiary, and intentionally hurtful.
Among other terrible things, she wrote: “Either you are against these pieces of shit or you’re part of the problem. That’s actually how simple this is. I’m happy the witch is dead. Can’t wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million Iraqis have.”
Her rhetoric is insensitive, distasteful, and rude.
But it is still protected speech.
We sometimes forget that it is not the views that are universally shared that need protecting. It is not the words, and messages, and sentiments that are harmless and have widespread appeal that depend on the First Amendment. We often ignore the reality that being truly committed to free speech often means protecting and defending ideas that we find to be utterly abhorrent.
Joseph I. Castro, the president of Fresno State, released a statement expressing his “condolences to the Bush family” and acknowledging that the administration shares “the deep concerns expressed by others” regarding Jarrar’s comments.
Castro made sure to create distance between him, the institution for which he is responsible, and Jarrar.
“Her statements,” he said, “were made as a private citizen, not as a representative of Fresno State. Professor Jarrar’s expressed personal views and commentary are obviously contrary to the core values of our University, which include respect and empathy for individuals with divergent points of view, and a sincere commitment to mutual understanding and progress.”
That’s all fair, and Castro is well within his rights to point out that Jarrar’s statements do not reflect the views of the university. But in the days and weeks ahead, he would do well to remember that upholding the First Amendment is a value that is very much in line with his role as an educator.