Culture Beat / October 24, 2017

The Cost of Free Speech

Antifa and other social justice warriors are the real fascists as the seek to silence the free speech rights of others.

One of the hottest topics on college and university campuses in America today is the right to freedom of speech. Over the past couple years, schools have witnessed a growing problem of violent protests aimed against speakers, usually conservatives, under the excuse of stopping “fascists” and “racists” from spreading their hate. Schools have seen security costs skyrocket as violent protests have been threatened in order to shut down a speaker. Recently, UC Berkeley spent over $600,000 in security cost when it hosted conservative commentator Ben Shapiro for an evening speaking engagement. In April, the university spent a similar amount when Ann Coulter spoke at the school.

But it’s not only conservative speakers who have come under threat by these antifa social justice warriors. Last spring student protesters took over Evergreen State College after biology professor Bret Weinstein, a self-identified leftist, objected to a demand by some students that all white people leave the campus for a day. And recently the president of the University of Oregon, Michael Schill, found himself interrupted and shouted down while giving his state-of-the-university speech by a group of students who claimed to be fighting against fascism.

In a subsequent op-ed piece published in The New York Times, Schill observed, “It is … ironic that they would associate fascism with the university during a protest in which they limit discourse. One of the students who stormed the stage during my talk told the news media to ‘expect resistance to anyone who opposes us.’ That is awfully close to the language and practices of those the students say they vehemently oppose. Fundamentally, fascism is about the smothering of dissent.”

On the other side of the country at the University of Columbia’s Law School an adjunct faculty member is preaching the opposite message. Kayum Ahmed recently helped students prevent controversial political activist Tommy Robinson — a pseudonym for Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon — from giving a talk on campus via Skype. Ahmed preemptively filed a discrimination complaint before the speech claiming that Robinson’s speech “constitutes an act of violence” and that it was “a form of harassment and discrimination.” Ahmed further argued that allowing Robinson to speak would be dangerous because he promotes hate speech that does not deserve First Amendment protections.

While Robinson’s views may indeed be hateful, the more dangerous precedent Ahmed argues for is the false notion that speech can equal violence. Having hateful views and espousing those views are worlds apart from directly inciting actual violent action against others. The foundational principle the First Amendment espouses and protects is that an individual’s right to speech no matter how unpopular or offensive shall not be infringed upon by the government. It is the response of the intellectually lazy to demand that government silence the speech of those with whom they disagree rather than either ignoring or constructively arguing against their ideas. It is the fascists who seek to stop free speech.

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