Some have found the expression of U of R football players in support of blue lives matter offensive to liberal values. The op-ed titled “Are We Really a Liberal Institution?” by Nikki Ramirez calls for the University to react stronger to the act of free speech. Given that the Director of Athletics prevented it from happening again, it’s unclear what further action “should” have happened. Also, is the expression in support of Blue Lives Matter contrary to liberal values?
The short answer is that what happened did show why we aren’t a liberal institution. Yet, it isn’t illiberal for the reason the article suggests—nor should universities particularly reflect liberal or conservative values, at least not in the American sense of the terms.
First, we should understand what Blue Lives Matter advocates for. Wikipedia describes it as a countermovement to black lives matter in support of protecting police officers from violence. It seems reasonable to accept the basic goals of both movements as compatible. Black Lives Matter says black people shouldn’t be killed because they’re black; Blue Lives Matter says cops shouldn’t be killed because they’re cops. While supporters of each will disagree on more specific issues, we can accept these propositions as worthy pursuits.
This isn’t a defense of Blue Lives Matter. I would probably agree with both Ramirez and Williams, the Treasurer of the Black Student Union who was interviewed for the referenced piece, on many criminal justice issues. However, the article asserts that the University failed to stop the “wrong” opinion from being expressed, asking “how far things will go” before more is done.
Was the University supposed to immediately dispatch a response team to rip the Blue Lives Matter flag from strapping athletes’ hands? It seems they successfully prevented certain speech by subsequently limiting teams to just showing the American, California, and Redlands flag.
One can understand why the University would want to avoid a hot political topic. Still, what would be the “liberal” thing to do?
Liberalism in other countries does not mean the American political left. Liberalism, in its original meaning and to most of the world, means an ideology which prioritizes individual rights such as free expression and equality before the law. For the University of Redlands to be a liberal institution, it would have to allow students’ expression of whatever political belief they espouse.
In America, we embody these values in government, where we have legal protections against the abuse of our basic rights. But should American meanings of liberal/conservative invade our universities to limit certain views?
I would argue that universities are the pinnacle of diversity and competition of ideas. We shouldn’t have some universities protect liberal ideas and some protect conservative ideas. That would make our country even more polarized than it already is, as students would leave their education firmly stuck in one way of thinking.
The University’s message on Inclusivity and Community says that “[n]o matter who you are, you’ll fit in here.” What about those that differ from Ramirez on the topic of Black Lives vs. Blue Lives Matter?
Ironically, the article argues that the mere expression of a political opinion is contrary to diversity. In fact the suppression of speech is exactly that—contrary to diversity (of ideas). Expressing that police officers shouldn’t be killed for their job or that doing so should be a hate crime is not damaging to a certain group’s rights, unlike telling people what they can’t say. At most, it is damaging a cause that some people agree with, but it hasn’t offended that group’s right to exist.
Blue Lives Matter isn’t a cause I subscribe to. But to paraphrase Evelyn Beatrice Hall on Voltaire, we must defend the expression of all views, even those with which we disagree. Free speech is a fundamental value of liberalism. Obstructing the flag of Blue Lives Matter is not.
[hr gap=””]Illustration by Ariel Cook.