The New Free Speech Movement

Some readers of ALIVE Magazine might be aware that New York Times bestselling author and syndicated radio host Ben Shapiro is coming to U.C. Berkeley on September 14 after a tumultuous spring.

So far this year the university administration has cancelled or blocked three speakers previously invited by the Berkeley College Republicans (BCR): Milo Yiannopoulos, David Horowitz, and Ann Coulter. In the case of Milo, riots rocked the campus and city of Berkeley, and millions of Americans watched the university where the original Free Speech Movement started over five decades ago, burn late into the night.

As president of BCR, I wanted to explain why BCR has invited Ben Shapiro to campus, despite the previous and frightening amount of violence and obstruction, as well as the larger significance of this invitation to the fight for free speech rights for conservative students, here at Berkeley and elsewhere.

To begin: the First Amendment is under assault on college campuses all over the United States. U.C. Berkeley is simply the most well-known and publicized example of how university administrators and self-described “anti-fascists” work hand-in-glove to cancel or otherwise disrupt speakers who do not toe the line on subjects such as gender or Islam.

Some terminology: the “heckler’s veto” is the means by which the Left shuts down speech with which they disagree. It is when violence or threats of violence “compel” administrators to impose unreasonable security fees on the student group hosting the speaker, forcing the group to cancel their event. University policies which permit the levying of excessive security fees on such events constitute a “tax” on free speech. In most cases, the speech in question is conservative. But the heckler’s veto can take other forms; for instance, the shutting down of events at which hecklers have become too violent, or the cancellation of speakers who have sparked numerous and supposedly “credible” threats of violence, as in the cases of BCR’s three previous speakers.

The university administration, university police department, City of Berkeley, and city police department are all complicit in ensuring the success of the heckler’s vetoes on these past occasions. Not only did they tax conservative speech, they refused to deploy or exercise the proper amount of force against dangerous rioters and protestors in at BCR’s past events, providing themselves an excuse to silence our guests even before they spoke on campus.

Besides these methods of taxation and untrammeled violence, the university has applied numerous and arbitrary parameters to some of our past speakers, such as David Horowitz and Ann Coulter. These tactics have included curfews relegating our speakers to speaking at times when students are in class, or restrictions limiting them to venues far from the main campus, asking us not to advertise our events, and restricting attendance at the events. And all the while liberal speakers – such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and former President of Mexico, Vincente Fox – are allowed to speak at later times and more accessible venues.

The double standard is clear.

BCR’s invitation of Ben Shapiro to campus is a refutation of the oft-made and erroneous claim that we have only sought to invite provocative, out-of-the-mainstream speakers to campus for the sole purpose of provoking a violent reaction. Unlike Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro is a long-established member of the American conservative movement. A graduate of Harvard Law, Shapiro regularly sells out college venues and sometimes sparks conflict and controversy. His signature phrase, “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” has resonated across college campuses and among television and radio pundits for years, while his stances on the free market, abortion, and Israel are orthodox and held by a wide swath of conservatives, especially those of a socially conservative, Christian background.

Even if BCR is able to successfully host Ben Shapiro, it would be premature to say that free speech has finally been won at Berkeley.  As the saying goes, the exception proves the rule: speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos, David Horowitz, and Ann Coulter are the exception. If these outspoken conservative speakers are unable to present on college campuses, let alone the supposed “birthplace of the Free Speech Movement,” then free speech has not been secured for students, regardless of their political persuasion.

Until speakers like the aforementioned can come to campus without the university administration or anti-fascists taxing, blocking, marginalizing, vetoing, and ultimately shutting them down, then U.C. Berkeley’s legacy of upholding First-Amendment rights remains tarnished.

Ben Shapiro’s event will serve as a test to see whether or not the administration is willing to protect any form of conservative speech on its campus. BCR’s ultimate goal is to establish a conservative legacy at U.C. Berkeley, what I might call “The New Free Speech Movement.”

We desire to take up the work communist, socialist, and far-left students began decades ago and fight for the rights of young liberals and conservatives alike, both present and future. This means institutional reform, not mere window dressing or one-off triumphs.

More tests, more trials and tribulations must follow before U.C .Berkeley can prove its commitment to keeping the United States Constitution and we the people – its students – safe.