Strange bedfellows have teamed up in defense of the First Amendment, which is under attack by equally strange bedfellows. The conservative Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., introduced a bill to ban campus codes against ''hate speech.'' Cheering him on was the liberal Nadine Strossen, head of the American Civil Liberties Union.
At issue are the ''sensitivity codes'' by which a number of American colleges and universities hope to teach their students basic kindergarten manners. Most of the codes ban racism, sexism and other intolerant ''isms.'' More ambitiously, Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, proscribes ''lookism'' (the construction of a standard for beauty/attractiveness'') and ''ableism'' (''oppression of the differently abled by the temporarily able''). The University of Connecticut sought to eliminate ''inappropriately directed laughter, inconsiderate jokes . . . and conspicuous exclusion [of others] from conversations.''
Critics of the codes fear that they may go beyond punishing abuse and insult to threaten the free discussion of controversial issues in the classroom. A University of Michigan student was charged with violating the campus code by saying in a sociology class that he thought homosexuality might be treatable by psychiatry. The student was acquitted, and large sections of the code were later dropped when a court found them unconstitutional.