Is the Left Abandoning Free Speech?
On February 1st of this year, Milo Yiannopolus was scheduled to speak at the University of California Berkeley. Before the event began, over 100 faculty members had signed a petition urging the University to cancel the event, and over 1,500 students gathered outside the venue to protest the speech. Milo Yiannopopuls, even before his universally-condemned comments on paedophilia surfaced, was an incredibly controversial figure. Conventionally associated with the alt-right movement, the former Breitbart editor in chief has previously stated that gay rights are detrimental to humanity, compared feminism to cancer, called victims of child sexual abuse "little whiners," and made numerous other obviously and intentionally offensive statements. He is undeniably a brash provocateur who enjoys getting a rise out of those he offends.
Apparently, his event at Berkeley was a bridge too far for many students, and soon before the event the large scale protest outside of the speaking venue turned violent. Protesters set fires, threw fireworks, attacked other crowd members, damaged property, and threw rocks at the police. The protests forced the cancellation of the event and caused over $100,000 in damage to university property. The February 1st riots on campus were followed by three other violent protest events. On March 4th anti-Trump protesters clashed with demonstrators at a pro-Trump rally, eventually leading to multiple arrests and the confiscation of multiple weapons including bricks, baseball bats, metal pipes and a dagger. On April 15th, a riot near the campus at a local park resulted in 6 hospitalizations and a stabbing, as alt-right protesters performing nazi-salutes faced off against radical antifacist groups in competing demonstrations numbering 1,000 people combined. In the final installment on April 27th, University administrators cancelled an Ann Coulter speaking event after objections by left-wing student groups foreshadowed similarly dangerous riots. I believe that this series of events is a microcosm of a clear and frightening trend in American Politics: the First Amendment is under assault by the left.
In 1977, the National Socialist (Nazi) Party of America planned a small parade and demonstration in the town of Skokie Illinois, a predominantly Jewish community in where nearly 1 in 6 residents were Holocaust survivors or were directly related to a Holocaust survivor. Frank Collin, the organization head, informed county officials that the group planned to process towards the town center and hold a subsequent demonstration, dressed in 1940s Nazi uniforms with swastika armbands, and that the group would not make publicly derogatory statements and would comply with reasonable police instruction. The Village of Skokie filed for a preliminary injunction to prevent the rally which was granted by county courts but was later struck down by the Supreme Court on the basis of First Amendment protections. The Supreme Court held, as many on the left refuse to recognize, that no speech, unless obscene to the level of child pornography or damaging to critical national security, is too offensive to be allowed.
Free speech is undeniably under attack by the thousands of students across the country who deny platform to conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro, Richard Spencer and Ann Coulter, displaying a frightening degree of un-Americanism. The right to offend, whether it be as egregious as the Nazi Party marching through a Jewish Community or as benign as criticism of public figures, must be defended. Constitutional protections apply to everyone, and it betrays a startling level of hypocrisy that so many on the left are perfectly willing to cite First and Fourteenth Amendment protections in transgender bathroom cases but vehemently deny those same protections to right-wing political activists. Any liberal who finds the implied privacy right of Roe v. Wade in the constitution, must also find the actually enumerated right of freedom of speech as well. Bad ideas are bad ideas, but people have the right to decide which ideas they agree with; a publicly funded university like UC Berkeley has absolutely no business in the litigation of such matters.
If the left believes it is a party for everyone, it must not discriminate on the basis of speech. Censorship is a dangerous path: we don't need more safe spaces from speech, we need safe spaces for speech. However offensive, the Republican party (save HHS Secretary Tom Price) is becoming the party of free speech. I would like to think the Constitution is above partisanship, but the "educated," university left seems to disagree.