The inconvenience of free speech
A growing number of Democrats want to abandon the First Amendment
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.