Free Speech on Campus and the Case of Jonathan Bradley

March 3, 2021 Updated: March 3, 2021

Commentary

The case of Ryerson University student Jonathan Bradley is yet another example of the erosion of academic freedom and free speech at universities.

A fourth-year journalism student and a strict Catholic, Bradley has filed a discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), claiming to have been fired from the Eyeopener, a Ryerson student newspaper, for reasons related to his religious views.

The trouble began in March 2020, when Bradley wrote an commentary for The Post Millennial criticizing equity, diversity, and inclusion offices at Canadian universities. He wrote that these offices “make students think that there is one acceptable opinion on issues. They discourage students from formulating their own ideas.” He gave examples of social justice events organized by these offices at which he said this occurred, noting that “these offices brainwash students” and pointing to certain events that were “filled with rampant political correctness and postmodernism.”

In the tribunal documents, he said “he had grown disenchanted with these offices because he had noticed that some groups were being discriminated against by these offices on the basis of their viewpoints,” according to the National Post.

Shortly after his article was published, Bradley’s editor told him that it made other Eyeopener staff feel unsafe and uncomfortable and that he wasn’t allowed to write on diversity and inclusion issues for the newspaper anymore.

Then in June 2020, one of Bradley’s former classmates posted a number of tweets tagging the Eyeopener and Ryerson and telling them that “Jonathan has tweeted blatantly homophobic and transphobic things.”

Her tweets included screenshots of private messages in 2017 between her and Bradley about some tweets Bradley had posted earlier. He had publicly expressed his view that homosexuality and transgenderism were sins, and in response to objections he provided sources including Biblical references that he felt made the issues clear. The classmate’s screenshots consisted of exchanges in which she asked Bradley to delete those public tweets, calling his view “homophobic” and telling him he can believe what he wants but “just don’t publicly say it.”

Days later, Bradley received an email from the Eyeopener informing him his job with the newspaper had been terminated. “Since you’ve made your opinion public, members of our community, especially queer, trans, and non-binary folks, would no longer feel safe if you are associated with the publication,” the email stated, according to the National Post.

In his HRTO application, Bradley is seeking $20,000 in damages, while asking for his writing job to be restored and for the Eyeopener to “develop and implement non-discriminatory policies and procedures,” Canadian Catholic News reports.

Bradley’s lawyer, Carol Crosson, says the case encapsulates the many problems that have arisen on university campuses in recent years.

“The problems Mr. Bradley has experienced at Ryerson have been building for some time on university campuses,” she told me. “Unfortunately, these purported ‘bastions of free speech’ fail to recall the fundamental freedoms held so dear at the time of their creation.”

The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship wrote to the Eyeopener in support of Bradley in January 2021. “A campus newspaper that prohibits the expression of particular ideas or arguments helps to confirm the idea that a university is no place for the open discussion of controversial topics,” the letter said. It noted that firing Bradley “for expressing his views publicly will make it more difficult for other students to be open, candid, and direct about their own views,” thus further chilling free speech.

The core problem with social justice activists is that they constantly dress up their value judgments with the veneer of objectivity. They certainly have an abundance of “studies” from like-minded theorists they can cite that bestow intellectual, and even scientific, legitimacy upon their petulant behaviour. So to disagree is to be against the “science” or the conclusions put forth by these theorists who are clearly less than impartial.

Take the unmitigated nonsense they’ve uttered on free speech, for example. Critical race theorist David Gillborn holds that the function of free speech in our society is dictated by “whiteness,” such that “already debunked racist beliefs can enjoy repeated public airings where they are lauded as scientific and rational by many White listeners, who simultaneously define as irrational, emotional, or exaggerated the opposing views of people of colour.” Gillborn’s assertion is purely a value judgment and ideological statement masquerading as a sophisticated scholarly observation. It also now informs much of the culture surrounding free speech and academic freedom on campus.

As the conflicts over free speech and social justice continue and become ever more polarized, Crosson hopes that Bradley’s case will help reverse the “erosion of fundamental freedoms” in institutions like universities, where they should always be protected.

“Some say it is too late to remedy the erosion of our fundamental freedoms, especially on campuses. But I believe that if we have a few more ‘Bradleys’ who kindly but firmly take a stand for the right every individual has to be treated evenly and fairly, we can change the trajectory,” she says.

“I believe that many ‘Bradleys’ exist. They just need to take their place.”

Cases like Bradley’s, which appear to be happening more and more frequently, evoke the fundamental question of what the university experience ought to be about in 2021. In an ideal scenario, a discussion along these lines could be had that could strike a compromise between the competing interests of the embattled factions. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely, as the social justice types repeatedly demonstrate that co-existence and pluralism are incompatible with their ideology. The institutions they’ve aggressively co-opted will continue to reflect that, much to the detriment of their reputation and the regard that the tax-paying public has for them.

Those in positions of authority could “change the trajectory” if they put their mind to it, but given the ideology to which they’ve long subordinated themselves, this is a tall order.

Shane Miller is a political writer based in London, Ontario.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.