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It’s Time to End the Madness on Campus — Here’s How to Do It
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The Left has broadened its war against free speech on college campuses. And they must be stopped.
It’s increasingly clear that the Left has decided to brand all of their opponents — even mainstream conservatives like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and media figures like Ben Shapiro and Steven Bannon — as racists and bigots. If racism is not the excuse for the protest, the Left picks from an array of various smears to try to silence conservatives. And increasingly, they are using criminal violence as their go-to weapon.
This is dangerous.
If universities won’t protect the first amendment, the authorities should. The solution to the madness on campus is simple — punish criminal violence against all forms of free speech no matter how unpopular, and refuse to fund colleges that won’t respect the 1st amendment.
Violent protestors need to be prosecuted, and the government needs to use its soft power through threats of funding cuts or, when appropriate, pushing back against overzealous protestors by defending high-profile conservative speakers who exercise their right to free speech.
In cases of non-violent protest, which have become increasingly rare in today’s climate, authorities should respect the rights of both sides, and refrain from imposing onerous location or cost burdens on either side in the name of “security.”
The Left’s Recent Attacks
The Left’s obsession with silencing their political opponents has reached new and ludicrous heights. On their blacklist? Highly-qualified speakers from various levels of government, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former White House Advisor Steve Bannon, conservative journalist Ben Shapiro, and now, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
As Aaron Reitz, former President of the Federalist Society at the University of Texas, told the Conservative Institute:
Today’s liberals — especially younger ones — are quite illiberal in their tolerance for anything but hard-left ideology.
The Case of Jeff Sessions
Members of the Left protested Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who spoke at Georgetown Law Center.
Like many other campus protests, not only did Leftist students protest the speech, but the liberal faculty joined in the protests. About 40 faculty and staff members joined the students in protesting Sessions’ speech at the Law Center.
Randy Barnett, a nationally-renowned libertarian professor at Georgetown Law Center, invited Sessions to speak to the Georgetown Center for the Constitution at the law school. The school invited members of the Center who had attended previous events and members of Barnett’s class.
Using a mix-up with invitations as an excuse, the students decided to protest. Although the protest did not appear to turn physically violent, the protestors tried their hardest to disrupt Sessions’ speech. According to The Washington Post:
They took turns speaking into a bullhorn, decrying Sessions, the process the university used to bring him to campus and posing questions they would have asked the attorney general had they been allowed into the event.
A law professor, Heidi Li Feldman, decried the invitation being extended to the highest ranking lawyer in the United States:
You cannot invite people who so thoroughly threaten the basic premises of American law to a campus and not speak up if your mission in life is to educate people about the American legal system.
The lunacy of the view that the top lawyer in the United States should not be allowed to speak at a law school because he is a conservative is apparently lost on the ultra-Left professors at Georgetown.
This protest was aimed at a man who, as Attorney General of Alabama, ensured that a top Ku Klux Klan member in Alabama received the death penalty. And a man whom Democrats in the Senate used to praise and feel “blessed and honored” to work with in honoring civil rights figures.
The Case of Condoleezza Rice
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been subjected to several protests. Perhaps the most extreme protest was after her invitation to speak at the 2014 Rutgers commencement.
Students and faculty protested for weeks after Rice’s invitation was announced. The Rutgers president acknowledged that Rice was “one of the most influential intellectual and political figures of the last 50 years.”
Yet students disapproved of her service in the Bush administration and aid with the Iraq war. In a classy move, Rice chose to cancel the appearance to ensure that the graduating students’ experience was not politicized.
The Case of Ben Shapiro
Because of the threatened violence, hundreds of police were stationed for blocks around the event. In total, Berkeley spent $600,000 in security measures for Shapiro’s speech.
Protestors defended their actions by labeling Shapiro a “white supremacist” and “fascist.” Never mind that Shapiro is an Orthodox Jew, who has spent much of his career as enemy No. 1 of the alt-right movement.
The Case of Neil Gorsuch
Leftists also protested a speech that Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch gave to the Fund for American Studies, a conservative non-profit.
In this case, the Left used the excuse that the speech was given to an ideological group at the Trump International Hotel. Never mind that legal experts said that there was no ethics issue. And never mind that liberal idol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg routinely gives speeches to liberal groups such as the American Constitution Society.
This inconsistency underscores the real complaint: a conservative judge was speaking.
The Case of Steve Bannon
Former White House Advisor Steve Bannon was scheduled to speak at the University of California Berkley.
Berkeley school officials expressed concerns over security at the event from violent protests by liberal students. Some estimates predicted that the school would spend over $1 million to provide security for Bannon’s and other conservatives’ speeches.
Eventually, this speech was canceled.
One protester was honest about the motivations of the protest; namely, to brand Bannon as a “hate” speaker. Of course, as a “hate speaker,” Bannon’s speech should not be tolerated:
Hateful movements don’t have a place, and they should not have a place on a publicly run university.
The Left’s strategy is delegitimizing their political opponents by smearing them
This wide array of speakers who are now unacceptable to the Left makes it clear that the free speech fight is really about smearing the Right as racists. The Left is trying to redefine the terms of public debate in America so that supporting conservative policies is the same as supporting white supremacy.
After all, once the entire Right is branded as racist, then, according to that narrative, the Right is not worth listening to.
The Solution: Create an environment safe for free speech
Campus security must take responsibility to prevent students from engaging in violence against indisputably highly-qualified speakers.
First, any students who engage in violence should be prosecuted for assault. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, stated that campus police have done nothing in response to violent threats on college campuses:
Frankly, until now, what the campus police have been doing is nothing.
By doing nothing, colleges are only encouraging further bullying. This bullying stops people from doing exactly what they should be doing on college campuses, that is, providing students an opportunity to hear different viewpoints.
What we are now witnessing should never be normal: one group appointing themselves as a freelance constitutional convention, editing out the rights they find vexing, and enforcing their new rules with the power of their fists. It’s shocking, and yet it’s actually happening.
After all, by not protecting controversial speakers, society is doing Americans a disservice. As Texas State Senator Briscoe Cain (who recently was protested himself) stated:
When protestors become violent, their unlawful actions do violence to their free speech protections. Just as a true threat is not protected speech, the destruction of property and the sanctity of the human person must be guarded against a protestor’s trespass disguised as speech.
Second, the government can use its soft power to encourage free speech. College funding should require an openness to free speech. There is no reason that taxpayers should be forced to fund colleges that don’t respect the 1st amendment.
After all, these threats of reduced spending have encouraged changes at colleges for decades (in one example, Bob Jones University eventually backed off of its disapproval of biracial marriage after its nonprofit status was revoked).
In a non-college context, appropriate officials should push back against anti-free speech fanatics. They should defend speakers from character assassination.
For example, Jeffrey Toobin, a senior legal analyst at CNN, called for Chief Justice John Roberts to reprimand Justice Gorsuch for his speech to Fund for American Studies. Toobin knows better — based his extensive career as a SCOTUS specialist, he’s surely familiar with the standard speaking practices of justices, both liberal and conservative. The justices should, instead, defend Gorsuch for exercising his right to free speech.
At the end of the day, however, prosecutions and soft power are not going to completely solve the problem. The only solution to the Left’s attack on free speech is to create an environment where differing views are welcomed and encouraged.
This solution starts from the ground up: from students at college campuses demanding ideological diversity to media consumers expressing their preference for fair and balanced coverage.
Aaron Reitz speaks from experience as a Federalist Society president on a state university campus. Reitz concludes that the blame for these increased attacks on free speech belongs to universities in general:
Universities have failed in inculcating young people with the desire and ability to engage ideas different from their own in a civil, thoughtful manner. To be sure, some in academia have done well in promoting cultures of free speech, and my own experience as a student leader at the University of Texas School of Law shows me that some schools get it right. But most don’t. Most have failed catastrophically. It’s no surprise that it’s becoming increasingly common for riots to break out whenever people espousing views other than progressive orthodoxy speak in public.
It’s time for the government to protect speech from criminal interference. Concerted legislative and police action to punish violent protesters who seek to suppress speech through a heckler’s veto is needed.
The 1st amendment isn’t negotiable. It’s time our leaders protect it.
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