Every week in America brings another spate of defeats for freedom of speech. This past week it was Ann Coulter’s turn (yet again) to be banned from speaking at Berkeley for what the university authorities purport to be “health and safety” reasons — meaning the health and safety of the speaker.
Each time this happens, there are similar responses. Those who broadly agree with the views of the speaker complain about the loss of one of the fundamental rights which the Founding Fathers bestowed on the American people. Those who may be on the same political side but find the speaker somewhat distasteful find a way to be slightly muted or silent. Those who disagree with the speaker’s views applaud the banning as an appropriate response to apparently imminent incitement.
The problem throughout all of this is that the reasons why people should be supporting freedom of speech (to correct themselves where they are in error, and strengthen their arguments where they are not) are actually becoming lost in America. No greater demonstration of this muddle exists than a letter put together by a group of students at Claremont McKenna College earlier this month to protest the appearance on their campus of a speaker with whom they disagreed.
Heather Mac Donald is a conservative author, journalist and fellow of the Manhattan Institute in New York. Her work has appeared in some of the world’s most prestigious journals. Of course, none of that was enough to deter students at Claremont from libelling her as much as possible in advance of her speech and then preventing her speech from taking place. At Claremont McKenna College, where Mac Donald was due to speak about her recent book, The War on Cops, angry students surrounded the building, screamed obscene words and banged on the windows. Mac Donald ended up giving the speech to a mainly empty room via live video-streaming and then fleeing the university under the protection of campus security. As recent events, such as the hospitalisation of a professor at Charles Murray’s recent speech at Middlebury College have shown, intimidation and violence are clearly regarded by today’s North American students as legitimate means to stop people from speaking.
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