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Firing of UT official shows major lack in freedom of speech

Lenny Bruce must surely be tired from spinning in his grave by now. Nearly 50 years after the groundbreaking Carnegie Hall performance by the edgy and controversial comedian, his lessons seem to have been forgotten. Perhaps they were never really learned in the first place.

Last April, a University of Toledo administrator, Crystal Dixon, came under scrutiny for remarks she made in an editorial, published April in the Toledo Free Press, regarding homosexuals. The University subsequently fired her. Her story has become the most recent of freedom of speech issue cases.

The article in question, which is still available in full at ToledoFreePress.com, merits an entire column’s worth of rebuttal on its own. The issue I’m interested in, though, is the small-scale national story developing out of the debacle: was the University justified in firing an administrator over comments she made as a private citizen?

After reading her article, titled “Gay rights and wrongs: another perspective” (actually a rebuttal to a previous Free Press column), it became clear Dixon had little idea of what she was writing. The offending passages attempt to separate the struggles of the homosexual community from a civil rights movement, because on Dixon’s account, their lifestyle is a decision and they must pay the consequences. The Bible and Christianity are the most oft-cited sources for her argument.

That her article surely offends many people on many levels is purely beyond question. Still, her firing represents an unfortunate trend in liberal protectionism and an extreme code of political correctness. However insensitive and misinformed her remarks may have been, she has every right to make them.

Let me make perfectly clear I have no intention of defending Dixon’s remarks. I encourage everybody to read the article for themselves, because it is a fascinating and frightening manifesto. In a May 15 Toledo Blade article, she refers to her piece as “divine mandate.”

Still, what comes into question is whether or not Dixon’s views inhibit her ability to function in her position as associate vice president of human resources at UT. Far be it for me to make an assessment of her performance in this position, but in the same Blade article, she claims to have been with the office for 25 years, recommending homosexual and heterosexual candidates for all kinds of positions throughout her tenure.

Holding a high-level human resources position with such a negative view of a substantial fraction of the population (which isn’t to suggest she’d be justified were homosexuals less numerous) certainly seems to be a conflict of interest. If, indeed, she is incapable of performing, then I would side with her firing. That she was fired the day her article was published after 25 years of service, though, suggests to me the University’s only real interest lay along the “cover your ass” mentality.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, as the adage goes, and that one of Dixon’s most vocal supporters is Rush Limbaugh is not lost on me. In my adamant defense of free speech, I’m often forced to “side” with people whom I find loathsome and disreputable. Dixon is the most recent in a growing line of people whose careless remarks have gotten them in trouble.

The case draws curious parallels to that of Don Imus in April 2007, which was, as he himself put it, “some idiot comment meant to be amusing.” Granted it failed and was hurtful, but his complete vilification may not have been entirely appropriate. I wonder if, “As a black woman” – a trait she seemingly thinks puts her in a position to make her hurtful remarks – Dixon might be of strong enough character to defend Imus’s freedom of speech?

Some time ago, I heard a valuable proverb regarding free speech. It encapsulates what lies, to me, at the very core of the Crystal Dixon case, and every similar case in free society. Either we value free speech for those with whom we vehemently disagree, or we don’t value free speech at all.

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