The atrocities at Charlottesville and the University of Virginia have brought new, critical attention to what’s been called “free speech absolutism”: the claim that the mere likelihood of hate speech and violence cannot curtail 1st Amendment rights. The ACLU, for example, has now declared it will no longer defend free speech rights for armed groups.
The Berkeley campus, however, seems to have declared itself in favor of “free speech absolutism”; it has affirmed its commitment to “content-neutral” permits and has adopted a “more speech” approach. Other universities, are following a different path, pointing out the high costs of providing protection and assuring the safety of the community.
Can our campus sustain a purist position? Some feel that the costs of protection (up to $500,000 per speaker) are worthwhile, since free inquiry is the university’s raison d’être. But what of the political costs–the chilling effect of hate speech on targeted members of our community? The Free Speech Movement developed from within the campus and expanded political rights, but it is now being hijacked by those outside the campus to diminish political rights. Is it not appropriate to defend free speech by barring those who extol violence and intimidation along with anti-democratic racism and sexism?
The report below, written by Tyler Leeds for the BFA, covers these issues as they have been debated in the media over the last week — legal and political issues, strategies of prevention and intervention.
As the campus prepares for potential disruption on August 27th, the Board of the BFA will be discussing these matters at its emergency meeting this Wednesday. If you have any suggestions or proposals send them to me or any other Board Member.
Chair of the BFA.