Universities, of all places, should be forums that accommodate many kinds of views, even those that are controversial. Free speech and vigorous debate, after all, are what campuses are supposed to be about.
That’s why a conservative religious group should be allowed to stage a rally at LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center, in spite of its inflammatory positions on various hot-button social issues.
The rally, called “The Response,” is planned for next month at the campus arena. It’s funded by the American Family Association, which had posted a prayer guide at the event’s website suggesting that natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina might have been connected to growing acceptance of same-sex marriage and abortion. Gov. Bobby Jindal is slated to participate in the rally, apparently to court the favor of religious conservatives across the nation. Jindal’s presidential aspirations are an open secret.
Critics of the rally have complained about LSU’s role as a site for the event. The university issued a statement pointing out that renting a meeting place to a group doesn’t mean that LSU endorses the group’s views.
We agree with the idea that the best solution to the difficulties of free speech is more free speech. Critics of the rally are planning a protest event, which seems in the best American tradition of open debate.
Civil discourse is grounded in the principle that all opinions should be heard — even those that sound distasteful. We deplore any suggestion that Louisiana’s people suffered the agonies of Katrina because we somehow deserved it. And we must question the judgment of a Louisiana governor who would associate himself with any group that supports that claim.
But through its fabled Free Speech Alley, LSU has a noble history of obliging ignoble speech, putting into practice a paradox that students are supposed to learn in the classroom: Our system often obligates us to tolerate intolerant people.
It’s a legacy worth keeping in mind as the AFA heads to campus.