Berkeley: The battle over free speech
In the 1960s, students at the University of California, Berkeley were responsible for “igniting the Free Speech Movement,” said Megan McArdle in Bloomberg.com. Fifty years later, Berkeley’s leftists “seem to have decided that free speech was a mistake”—and the university appears to agree. Administrators last week canceled a planned appearance on campus by right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter, claiming they couldn’t provide sufficient security for the event. Berkeley tried to backtrack on that decision, offering Coulter a speaking slot at a later date. But the university’s “shameful” capitulation to violent, left-wing mobs can’t be undone; in February, a riot led to the cancellation of an event featuring “conservative stirpot” Milo Yiannopoulos. I’m no fan of Coulter’s “toxic” rhetoric, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune, but no university should allow violent protesters to dictate who can and cannot speak. Berkeley is “rewarding thugs for being thuggish.”
Actually, students are entirely justified in trying to prevent bigots like Coulter from speaking at colleges, said New York University vice provost Ulrich Baer in The New York Times. Certain topics, such as the idea that “some human beings are by definition inferior to others,” simply aren’t debatable. Holocaust denial, for example, isn’t free speech—it’s a denial of the humanity of those who were exterminated by the Nazis. Similarly, it’s wrong to give a public platform to people who insist African-Americans are genetically less intelligent, or that transgender women are deluded men wearing dresses. This isn’t about censorship; Coulter has had plenty of opportunities to vent her spleen, and on the internet “all kinds of offensive expression flourish unfettered on a vast platform available to nearly all.” Why should a college help racists, homophobes, misogynists, and other reactionaries insult and demean oppressed groups? “The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks.”
Those are words “that should chill every American heart,” said David French in NationalReview.com. Free speech applies to all speech—period. The idea that “campus radicals” at a public university should be the arbiters of whether certain views are worthy is antithetical to this country’s founding ideals. To this leftist clique, any disagreement with their “racial and sexual identity politics” is intolerable, which means that even mainstream conservatives must be intimidated into silence. If Berkeley and other universities won’t defend free speech, they should lose their federal funding.