• Lawmeme: Professor’s blog sparks campus speech controversy – An interesting discussion on the freedom of university profs to utter hate speech from a blog hosted on a university web serverAfter reading the lawmeme story, I was curious about this prof’s blog so I pulled it up. It seemed a bit more edgy than most professorial blogs that I’ve read (especially those hosted on-campus), but then I stumbled across this post that blew me away: Civil Arrest Warrants and Debt Collection

    I’m sure there’s more to this story that we see here (i.e. was this a “hearing for assets” that the debtor skipped out on?) but on the surface of it, it sounds like a shocking return to the days of debtor’s prison. (a bit of trivia that most folks are not aware of, is that there is nothing in the constitution that prohibits imprisonment for not paying ones debts… I personally think this would be a good thing to enshrine in the Constitution since our laws have held that as the standard for some time now).

    What I found even more disturbing though than the plight of the folks portrayed in the WSJ story was this blurb from this prof’s blog…

      What to do with people who fail to pay their debts yet do not declare bankruptcy is an interesting topic. In Mr. Bushman’s case, it seems clear he was able to pay, but just didn’t want to, and the arrest was a good idea. I hope the article, which had a negative tone, doesn’t discourage too many creditors from cracking down on deadbeats

    Well Dr. Rasmusen, I have to disagree with you there. Unless you relish a return to Dicken’s England, imprisonment for not paying debts (not counting child support, court fines, and taxes) is a very bad idea. You callously say that “it seems clear he was able to pay” but you forget that for poor to middle class families, $579 is an enormous amount of money and that you just added $250 as the non-refundable bond deposit for the debtor’s bail.

    Yes, the debtor paid his debt but at what cost. We simply are not told how he did it. For all we know his wife had to hawk her wedding ring, the kids went hungry, he had to borrow money from those rip-off-city paycheck loan companies, there’s no telling. You think I’m making the desparation of this situation up but I’m not. These are the kinds of things that many low-middle income folks would have to do if were told that we had to come up with this much money all at one time.

    The idea that a hospital (once upon a time those were known as humanitarian organizations that focused on service and collected just enough money to make ends meet but not enough to make a profit) would actually put someone in jail for not paying a bill is OUTRAGEOUS!

    What is even more outrageous to me is that someone who has as much education as Dr. Rasmusen doesn’t recognize this. — I guess I’m getting too hot about this but it really does burn me to hear academics talking to coldly about the struggles that ordinary folks go through every day to survive.

  • Added later on the evening of Nov. 10, 2003 – There’s quite a bit more to this story than I initially thought . (it sounds like I’m the only bloggist out there who did not hear/spread this meme) Eric Volokh gives a good low down on what happened in this case and what was at stake.I guess in the end I would rather err on the side of too much freedom than not enough. I don’t care for Rasmusen’s hate speech (i.e. equating homosexuals to child molestors) and sure don’t agree with his political views, but I do believe he has the right to say stupid things even on a blog located on a public university’s web server. It’s a public forum so you can only restrict it for content-neutral reasons.

    I also though have to say I kinda agree with Ted Hinchman (quoted in an excellent post on Erinoconnor.org) that Rasmusen’s post was unprofesssional given its context on a university server and that the inflamatory statements were made in a subject area not related to the prof’s discipline of study. On the other hand though, I could see this be twisted too. A professor is not just a mere “employee” with an obligation to be a good representative of the institution, but rather are to be the instigators of free thought in the minds of students. This by its very nature will often involve controversial subjects, and often one subject is related to another even if those connection points are not immediatly clear.

    This is not an easy question but in the end I still would rather err on the side of liberty. — Which also means that those that oppose the prof’s hateful remarks have the right say his remarks are hateful. Let all of the ideas circulate in the “free market” of ideas. Those ideas that are good will last. Censorship is only useful to those who are afraid to speak out for what they believe.