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Free Speech

May 26, 1991

President Bush had it half right in his speech at the University of Michigan (May 5). It was refreshing to hear him defend freedom of speech on college campuses where close-minded "political correctness" masks intolerance and encourages the punishment of offensive ideas.

A university campus must be a place for robust, wide-open discussion. Students bring to college all their prejudices, fears, doubts and misconceptions. If they spend four years cooped up under repressive regulations, they might well obey the rules, offend no one and leave--with all their prejudices, fears, doubts and misconceptions intact. Punishing bigoted speech treats only the symptoms, not the disease.

But he was wrong to attack the Great Society and its salutary efforts to promote integration and enhance equal opportunities. The First Amendment protects racist speech, but the Constitution also empowers government to combat racism by fostering programs like Head Start, job training, voting rights and the ERA, which enlarge rather than abridge individual rights.

STEPHEN F. ROHDE, Los Angeles.

The writer is co-chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. Bill of Rights Bicentennial Committee.

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