The in­con­ve­nience of free speech

A grow­ing num­ber of Democrats want to aban­don the First Amend­ment

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY -

Free speech can be so in­con­ve­nient. A grow­ing num­ber of Democrats like the First Amend­ment’s guar­an­tee of the right to free speech and assem­bly, but only for them­selves and for those who agree with them. This is a fun­da­men­tal mis­un­der­stand­ing of the First Amend­ment, which does not guar­an­tee pleas­ing, nice, or even re­spon­si­ble speech, but free speech — even odi­ous speech.

The Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley, the birth­place of the Free Speech Move­ment a gen­er­a­tion ago, all but closed down the cam­pus Thurs­day to guar­an­tee that Ben Shapiro, a con­ser­va­tive news­pa­per colum­nist, could make a speech with­out los­ing his head or other needed body parts. The univer­sity spent thou­sands of dol­lars to main­tain “se­cu­rity” and the Berke­ley po­lice were au­tho­rized to use pep­per spray, for the first time in two decades, to con­trol left-wing demon­stra­tors.

The fa­mous plaza where the Free Speech Move­ment was born was closed, and so was the Stu­dent Union, where sopho­mores and oth­ers typ­i­cally gather to drink cof­fee and dis­cuss what’s wrong with the world and how to fix it, as well as six other cam­pus build­ings. This en­abled the po­lice to throw a se­cure perime­ter around the build­ing where Mr. Shapiro was sched­uled to speak.

Get­ting ready for an­other riot in Berke­ley fol­lows the re­lease of a new poll by the univer­sity that demon­strates that a ma­jor­ity of Cal­i­for­nia Democrats are weary of the First Amend­ment, and 53 per­cent of them think free speech “has gone too far.” This sur­prised the poll-tak­ers. “I would have thought the lib­er­als would be de­fend­ing the right to demon­strate in gen­eral,” Mark DiCamillo, who con­ducted the poll for the univer­sity’s In­sti­tute of Gov­ern­men­tal Stud­ies, tells the San Jose Mer­cury-News.

Bro­ken down by eth­nic­ity, the poll­sters find that 59 per­cent of Asian-Amer­i­cans, 58 per­cent of blacks and 51 per­cent of Lati­nos say speak­ers ad­vo­cat­ing “white na­tion­al­ism” should be “re­stricted.” One Demo­crat polled, who grew up in Louisiana where he said he re­mem­bered Ku Klux Klan crosses burned on his un­cle’s lawn, said “free­dom of speech is good, but it all de­pends on what you’re speak­ing about.”

This phe­nom­e­non is not just Cal­i­for­ni­ans be­ing Cal­i­for­ni­ans in “the land of fruits and nuts,” but some­thing bi­coastal. A re­cent sur­vey by Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity demon­strates that half of Vir­gini­ans think pro­tec­tion from dis­crim­i­na­tion should trump free speech. Only 40 per­cent of re­spon­dents think “un­lim­ited free­dom of ex­pres­sion” should pre­vail, even if it’s ex­pres­sion ad­vo­cat­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Fear of “white na­tion­al­ism” is driv­ing much of the ad­vo­cacy to aban­don free speech, but it’s not all about racial at­ti­tudes. Stu­dents at Ev­er­green State Col­lege in the state of Wash­ing­ton be­rate left-wing pro­fes­sors and de­mand to know “where they are go­ing at any given mo­ment,” lest they say some­thing to of­fend some­one.

At re­li­ably ul­tra-lib­eral Reed Col­lege in Port­land, Ore., fresh­man schol­ars have shut down lec­tures by gay and mi­nor­ity pro­fes­sors who are not suf­fi­ciently en­light­ened — or suf­fi­ciently ig­no­rant, de­pend­ing on point of view. One course, be­gin­ning with the “Epic of Gil­gamesh” and Apuleius’ “The Golden Ass,” is re­quired of fresh­men (or “fresh­per­sons”) to lay the foun­da­tion for later study of the hu­man­i­ties of the an­cient world. Stu­dents de­manded that the course, which has been re­quired of fresh­men since 1943, be made more in­clu­sive of “peo­ple of color,” not to be con­fused with “col­ored peo­ple.”

The chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley last month chided, ever so gently, her stu­dents to honor the univer­sity’s free speech legacy. “Par­tic­u­larly now,” said Chan­cel­lor Carol Christ (rhymes with “mist”) in a let­ter to fac­ulty and stu­dents, “it is crit­i­cal that the Berke­ley com­mu­nity come to­gether once again to pro­tect this right. It is who we are.” Right on, as the rad­i­cal cul­ture used to say. But with views like that, Miss Christ is ask­ing for trou­ble from “the aca­demic com­mu­nity.” Sadly, it’s who they are.

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