Shame on Berkeley, cradle of the Free Speech Movement, and shame on lefty protesters who succeeded in thwarting conservative provocateur Ann Coulter’s right to speak there Thursday night.
Wednesday afternoon, officials at the University of California campus canceled the event fearing violent protests that would threaten students' safety. What’s alarming is this is part of a disturbing trend across some college campuses to silence conservative speakers whose ideas are unpopular. Three times since February, masked protesters at Berkeley have turned demonstrations into violent confrontations.
Something similar happened earlier this month at Claremont McKenna in southern California, when protesters disrupted Heather MacDonald of the conservative Manhattan Institute as she attempted to share her critical views on the Black Lives Matter movement. Last month, protesters rudely interrupted Charles Murray of the conservative American Enterprise Institute while speaking at Middlebury College. Administrators were forced to whisk him away to a safe location.
Academic environments should be a place for all students to learn and debate a robust variety of viewpoints — particularly if they contradict one’s own beliefs. Universities should do all they can to create an atmosphere for a free and fair exchange of ideas — and that means making it safe for controversial speakers and students.
Coulter, as many know, is an ultra-conservative, uber-Trump supporter whose ubiquitous presence drives the left wing crazy. She epitomizes and invites controversy. She’s made hundreds of outrageous statements that make one wonder if she actually believes them or is just a master at turning divisive remarks into an attention-getting art form.
America’s growing interest in soccer, she said, is a sign of “the nation’s moral decay.” And that “liberals love America like O.J. loved Nicole.” Coulter suggested if we took away women’s right to vote, “we'd never have to worry about another Democrat president.” Google her name and ‘ridiculous’ and up pops “Crazy Ann Coulter Quotes and Statements.”
But it doesn’t matter. She still has a right to express her thoughts. It’s called the First Amendment, and it protects her right to free speech.
Berkeley College Republicans and Young America's Foundation invited Coulter, a huge Trump supporter and right-wing darling, to speak Thursday night. Her attraction might be that she believes there are “no good democrats,” while acknowledging there are a “lot of bad Republicans.” Or they are drawn to her 2015 book, Adios, America: The Left's Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole.
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First the university tried to push off the speaking engagement to the fall. But a backlash ensued, and Coulter threatened to speak anyway on the iconic Sproul Plaza, which ironically is outside of Sproul Hall, where the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s began.
Coulter should have been allowed to speak at the birthplace of a movement that began because students in 1964 were angry that the university banned on-campus political activities. Students then were demanding their right to free speech.
The same right to free speech Berkeley College Republicans are demanding for themselves and Coulter. The university offered to try to allow her to speak next week in the afternoon — but that’s when classes will be over and students madly studying for exams.
“What are you afraid of ― her ideas?” asked Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a fan of the liberal college wing. “Ask her the hard questions,” he concluded. “Confront her intellectually. Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don’t think that that works in any way.”
The right to free speech, enshrined in our Constitution, is one of the hallmarks that proudly differentiates America from more restrictive governments. It means anyone has the right to spew abhorrent political views on the right or left without fear of a violent crowd turning on them — especially on a university campus.
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“Freedom of speech means freedom for those who you despise, and freedom to express the most despicable views,” said noted legal scholar Alan Dershowitz.
Berkeley said that there are two principles that are non-negotiable on its campus: free speech and campus safety. But this time, campus safety trumps free speech. It’s hard to believe that a campus such as Berkeley couldn’t find a way to protect Coulter, or that this invitation came as a surprise to them.
Regardless of our political beliefs, we should all stand firmly behind Coulter. Even a few strange bedfellows support Coulter: Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, HBO’s Bill Maher and Bloomberg View columnist Margaret Carlson.
“I’m very sad about Berkeley's cancelation, but my sadness is greater than that,” tweeted Coulter. “It is a dark day for free speech in America.”
Hard to argue against her on that.