Berkeley student paper: 'heckling is a form of free speech'
The University of California-Berkeley’s student newspaper is taking a strong stance against policies that punish disruptive protesters, arguing that “heckling itself is a form of free speech.”
An editorial published Tuesday by The Daily Californian takes shrill exception to a policy approved by the University of Wisconsin system’s Board of Regents last week that imposes what the editors call “harsh sanctions” on students who repeatedly disrupt free speech on campus.
"Did it ever occur to [the] University of Wisconsin...that heckling itself is a form of free speech?"
The new policy requires disciplinary hearings for all students who are “alleged to have engaged in violent or other disorderly misconduct that materially and substantially disrupted the free expression of others,” specifying punishments ranging from a one-semester suspension for students who are twice found guilty of disruptive activities to outright expulsion after a third violation.
“The vote comes amid a perceived ‘free speech’ crisis: a crippling disdain for conservative thought on liberal college campuses,” the editorial remarks, though it immediately makes clear that “the majority opinion of the Editorial Board” does not share that perception.
“Did it ever occur to University of Wisconsin’s board of regents that heckling itself is a form of free speech?” the editorial asks, interpreting the policy’s prohibition on interfering with the rights of others as a blanket ban on expressive activity
“These restrictions would effectively turn college campuses into safe spaces for bigoted speech, actively muffling students threatened by the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos,” the editorial predicts, concluding that “the same people that tout their commitment to free speech are using it as a cover to curtail the First Amendment rights of marginalized students.”
Tyler Brandt, the president of Young Americans for Liberty at UW-Madison, told Campus Reform that the editorial is not only a “misrepresentation of the language of the policy,” but simply wrong about the nature of individual rights.
“The university has a long standing tradition of protesting and that is not the problem. In fact, there was a ‘cocks not glocks’ protest here last Tuesday, which was carried out peacefully and correctly,” Brandt noted, adding that the new policy is intended to address the type of disruptive protests that took place at a recent Ben Shapiro event, and “is not aimed at peaceful protesters.”
Brandt also pointed out that the Editorial Board “absolutely” ignores that one person’s right to free expression ends at the point where its exercise infringes on the rights of others.
“So I have a question for you, Editorial Board: Is ‘protesting’ the same as ‘repeatedly disrupting campus speeches?,’” asked Brandt. “You make it clear that the policy affects those who repeatedly disrupt campus speeches and if you conflate this with protesting then I question your judgement, use of logic, and ability to think objectively.”
“The Editorial Board could not be more wrong about this policy. I actually question if they even read the language of the policy adopted,” Brandt continued. “In punishing a ‘protester,’ the action must have ‘materially and substantially disrupted the free expression of others.’ The language is pretty clear: protesting is not the same as materially and substantially disrupting others’ free speech.”
In fact, he concluded, those who advocate for the right to disrupt speech may be neglecting the fact that their ideological opponents could always employ the same tactics, asking, “If it just so happens to be that your view of protesting is repeatedly disrupting campus speeches, then what should stop a group of right-leaning students taking the stage of a Marxist professor because his agenda is responsible for the death of 94 million people under communist regimes?”
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