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Extropians Matter Is Not About Free Speech

Extropians Matter Is Not About Free Speech

It disturbs me that some people are trying to frame the recent incident with the MIT Extropians as a free speech issue. The Extropians' right to free speech has not been violated. What MIT did was decide that what the Extropians had to say was not appropriate for a particular forum. Had MIT demanded that the Extropians take down their World Wide Web site and refrain from distributing literature at all, I would think that the allegations of censorship have some merit. But this hasn't happened.

Even if an MIT group distributes literature with a disclaimer stating that its views are not directly endorsed by MIT, the message is still there that MIT is supporting the existence group. This in and of itself is a powerful statement. If MIT is supporting a group with space to operate, money, avenues to publicity, or other resources, MIT has the right and the responsibility to see that the groups it supports are benefitting the MIT community in some way.

To make an analogy, the First Amendment right to free speech does not require that the editors of a journal like Nature accept and publish material that doesn't meet the journal's standards, and it doesn't prevent the editors of the journal from making publication of an article contingent on the author making changes. If an author's submission to a journal is rejected, that author has the opportunity to find another forum to present his or her work in. It is not a violation of the First Amendment for a private organization to decide what is and is not appropriate for its forum.

The scenario I have just described is a business deal. The journal gives something beneficial (money) to the author in exchange for a piece of work that will benefit the journal. The case with MIT and the Extropians is not so clearly a business deal, but it remains that MIT has given some benefit to the group and has the right to require something positive in return. If a group like the Extropians wishes to distribute information that is harmful to the MIT community, the group has a right and responsibility to find a forum elsewhere to express its ideas.

Amy M. Smith '98