Berkeley Republicans unconvinced by 'free speech year'

Republican students at the University of California, Berkeley remain skeptical about the school’s recently-announced initiative to embrace free speech on campus.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the school’s chancellor, Carol Christ, announced the new free speech initiative at a Tuesday event, dubbing the approaching school year a “free-speech year” during her welcoming remarks to new students, and adding that “particularly now, it is critical for the Berkeley community to protect this right; it is who we are.”

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“That protection involves not just defending your right to speak, or the right of those you agree with, but also defending the right to speak by those you disagree with, even of those whose views you find abhorrent,” she explained, noting that the university has an obligation to keep students “physically safe” but not to “protect [them] from ideas that [they] may find wrong, even noxious.”

But Naweed Tahmas, vice president of the Berkeley College Republicans, is skeptical, telling Campus Reform that he fears that the university will continue to exercise questionable policies despite Christ’s call for a “Free Speech Year.”

“Given the university's repeated practice of hiding behind vague security concerns, arbitrary curfews, and fees to silence conservative speech, I have little confidence that the university will not continue to engage in these unconstitutional practices, whether sanctioned by the most recent version of their speech policy, or not,” Tahmas remarked.

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Additionally, a new interim policy pertaining to speaking arrangements recognizes that hosting large events “can raise significant security concerns” but states that basic security expenses must be covered by the hosting organization, making it increasingly difficult for organizations to bring conservative speakers to campus.

“I received an invoice from the university that the cost of hosting Mr. Shapiro in the venue that the university offered would be nearly $10,000 for half of the capacity of the hall,” Tahmas revealed to Campus Reform.

“As a student organization, the proposed security cost places an undue burden on inviting conservative speakers to UC Berkeley, and similarly high security costs have been held to be unconstitutional speech restrictions at other public universities,” he argued. “This high fee is effectively an unconstitutional tax on speech.”

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A university official, however, pushed back on the criticism, telling Campus Reform that the university “agreed to take the unprecedented step of assuming responsibility for the venue fees associated with the Ben Shapiro event.”

The spokesperson did note, however, that “certain other event costs, including for example, any fees paid to the speaker, additional audiovisual services, and basic security (which does not include the cost of protest response), must be borne by the event sponsor, as per long standing university policy.”

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