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A Republic, If You Can Keep It: Or, Why Victimhood and Fear Won’t Preserve Liberty

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Thirteen years ago, I filed a lawsuit on behalf of two brave young women — Ruth Malhotra and Orit Sklar. They were students at the Georgia Tech, they’d faced unconstitutional censorship at their school, and they sued to challenge four blatantly unconstitutional policies, the school’s speech code, its speech zone, its student-fee-funding policy, and a “safe space” training program that explicitly condemned traditional Christianity.

If you think outrage mobs are new, consider what happened next. Ruth and Orit faced a torrent of campus hate. Ruth (an American of Indian descent), was called a “Twinkie” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), and online posts photoshopped swastikas on her face. She faced rape threats and death threats. One emailer threatened to throw acid on her face at graduation. We sought police protection on her behalf, simply so she could attend class in peace.

I’ve told this story before, but here’s a part I haven’t fully told. In spite of the fact that there was a vibrant Christian and conservative presence on campus, Ruth and Orit fought largely alone. In fact, one large campus ministry was angry at them for defending the Constitution, claiming it was making their life more difficult on campus. I had to fly to meet the general counsel of a major campus ministry to justify my decision to fight for the Constitution. I met with tenured Christian faculty and urged them to stand with Ruth and Orit, and while some offered (appreciated) private support, the public silence was deafening . . . and shameful.

The silence emboldened the Left. Their assault on Ruth and Orit was largely unopposed, but Ruth and Orit had courage. They persevered. And they won.

Georgia Tech was not only forced to revise its speech policies, the judge put the university under five years of court supervision — no policy changes without prior judicial approval. The university voluntarily changed its speech-zone policy, and the court struck down the challenged aspects of the safe-space policy. At the end of the litigation, the judge awarded Ruth and Orit more than $200,000 in attorneys’ fees, and he unilaterally published a statement condemning Georgia Tech’s public duplicity. I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since.

The Tech case was extraordinary, but the cowardice — or sometimes outright opposition — of allies was typical. In my very first campus case, a brave Christian group challenged Rutgers University after it tossed the group off campus for upholding a rule requiring that its leaders adhere to the group’s statement of faith. The very first opposition to the case came from — you guessed it — other Christians. They berated one of the group leaders so badly that I’ll never forget our late-night conversation as she wept at the pain and betrayal. But she persevered, and she won. And now Christian groups like hers have existed on that campus for almost twenty years.

Silence (and sometimes outright opposition) from fellow Christians and conservatives was so common that it became a standard part of my warning........

© National Review