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Free Speech? Not if You Hurt Their Feelings.

For all their desire to just get along -- Lazarus even volunteered at the co-op this month -- the students seem blind to the core rationale for freedom of speech, the idea that a marketplace of ideas is only worthwhile when it is truly, wholly unfettered.

Gretchen Metzelaars, director of Maryland's student union, met with the collective "trying to help them come to the conclusion that they must abide by the university's human rights code," which prohibits discrimination based on age, sex, race and, yes, political beliefs.

Despite hours of conversation, "it became apparent that they were not coming to the right conclusion," Metzelaars said. "So we delivered it to them." This week, she told the collective that if it discriminates again, it will have 60 days to vacate the premises.

"They can't see that this is discrimination," she told me. "They're more committed to their righteousness than they are to the rights of other people. The fact is, you have to serve everyone."

The collective finally seemed to get that idea, Metzelaars said. But then, "we finished our discussion, and they said, okay, but if someone came in wearing a swastika, we wouldn't serve them. And I said, 'Whoa! That's the problem right there: Everyone gets to say what they believe, and you have to serve them.' "

The students I spoke to do not see this. I asked several how their justification for letting a clerk walk away from a customer was any different from the rationale that propped up the "separate but equal" schools of this country's segregation era.

My analogy flopped. The idea that you simply may not treat someone differently because of their political beliefs was lost on these students.

"Separate but equal wasn't equal," Lazarus said. "In this case, I'm getting the same service, but it's just from a different cashier."

Join me at noon today for "Potomac Confidential" athttp://www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.


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