Conservative Column: UC Berkley and the demise of free speech


Last week the University of California–Berkeley cancelled an appearance by conservative firebrand Ann Coulter, citing the university’s supposed inability to guarantee the safety of Coulter and those attending her talk.  This isn’t the first time that one of California’s most liberal universities has been “unable” to allow a renowned conservative to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech.

Just a few months ago, the flamboyant Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to deliver a talk at the university but was forced to evacuate the campus just hours before the speech as riots began breaking out in the streets protesting his appearance.  These so-called “protesters” attacked conservatives, lit bonfires and incurred $100,000 worth of damage on the university.

Of course, any reports of the violation of free speech should draw great concern from the general public. But more people should be struck by its occurrence at UC Berkley. Why? Well, because this campus has been renowned for its position as the “birthplace of the free speech movement” in the early 1960s.

In the midst of the civil rights movement, several university students began to take issue with the administration’s regulations concerning political activity on campus.  In December 1964, thousands of students converged upon one of the main gathering areas of the campus in order to negotiate new terms with the administration concerning restrictions on political speech and demonstrations.  This proved to be largely successful and resulted in UC Berkley being dubbed the “birthplace of the free speech movement.”

But more than 50 years later, it would appear the university has conveniently forgotten about the title it so often flaunts.  Instead of being “assaulted” by law enforcement for voicing their free speech, the student body has instead become the assaulting party, refusing to accept the possibility that its position might not hold all the answers.

And it’s not just Berkley where this is happening.  Yiannopoulos had a speaking engagement at UC Davis cancelled over security concerns and following a speech he made at the University of Washington, where a man was shot during protests.

It never ceases to amazes me how the biggest alleged proponents of free speech are often only concerned about it so far it involves the advancement of their own agenda.  And it doesn’t take much of anything to see that this is the case in Berkley.  They seem to have forgotten that there is such a thing as peaceful discourse and that everyone has a right to speak on opposite ends of an issue.

If there is someone who would defend the actions of the protesters, I would like to hear his or her reasoning because I cannot seem to see it in the slightest.  I mean, these people are so set in their ways and so menacing that the university refuses to host anyone that will speak outside out of what the students and faculty consider the norm.

It is absolutely disgusting that a conservative’s, or anyone’s, simple appearance will move a crowd to riot and throw commercial-grade fireworks at police, as was the case for Yiannopoulos.  This only proves that UC Berkley does not believe in any other ideology other than the one of tolerance and respect they assume to pursue, when in fact their actions dictate otherwise.  How we as a people allowed for these to become acceptable forms of voicing disagreement is beyond me.

I will not deny the often inflammatory remarks than can be made by both Yiannopoulos and Coulter, but that does not excuse the behavior of these liberal protesters.  If the UC Berkley protesters truly want to be taken seriously, instead of confirming the “liberal snowflake” reputation they have made for themselves, then they must find more constructive ways of doing it that don’t involve putting the lives of others in danger.  I would expect the same from any conservative.

The protests have been condemned by the original members of the free speech movement, but that does not change the implications of the protesters’ actions. Instead of remaining on the right side of the First Amendment, UC Berkley has made a name for itself as an opponent of the same.  It is no longer the birthplace of the free speech movement; it is now the antithesis to its own history.  And if we cannot come to our senses and respect the right of every American citizen to free speech, then perhaps the rest of the country is not too far behind.