Threats to free speech are real and closer than you might think
By Amy Perry, Contributing Writer
In response to alleged infringements to free speech on college campuses, the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) are planning a protest on campus on Wednesday, Nov. 14. The protest highlights concerns over campus policy 700-70, which prohibits students from gathering to protest in certain areas. This policy restricts groups of more than 25 people from gathering in areas other than the Tower Mall and Speaker’s Mound. Additionally, students must give advance notice in order to protest. The YAL’s protest deserves our attention; having speech codes at a public university is in opposition to the First Amendment and can be used arbitrarily to silence voices that are more controversial than others.
The First Amendment of the US Constitution is the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This amendment guarantees that there will be no law barring individuals the ability to speak freely. Unfortunately, the university violates this constitutional right. Although policy 700-70 states that “all persons may exercise the constitutionally protected rights of free expression speech,” it is followed up with that they “must be conducted in accordance with campus time, place, and manner regulations.” The problem with this policy is that the First Amendment doesn’t allow for restrictions, except for cases of incitement, obscenity, perjury, true threats and the like.
The second part of the First Amendment that this policy contradicts is the right to peaceably assemble. The UCR policy regulates where the assembly can happen, restricted only to the Tower Mall and the Speaker’s Mound. Peaceful assemblies must also be approved several days in advance and it is not clear by reading the policy how the approval process works and what discretion is taken. While it’s understandable that the university would be concerned with disruptions on the campus and especially in the classrooms, it is not the role of a public university to say when and where one can assemble.
Since universities such as UCR are affiliated with the state and federal governments, they are expected to uphold the Constitution as it is written. With public universities receiving public funding, they should be public spaces where anyone is allowed to speak. The government is not allowed to infringe on free speech, but with these policies, that is what the university is doing. If we were speaking about a private university or private company, for example, then it wouldn’t be a violation of free speech to have policies that limit what can be said and how.
While some groups may slide under the radar from exercising their free speech in a protest or demonstration, other organic protests can be silenced by citing the policy. What this policy, otherwise known as a speech code, demonstrates is that free speech can be arbitrarily removed. One doesn’t have to look far to see how voices have been silenced on college campuses. Conservatives being barred from speaking at universities is a ubiquitous phenomenon in our current cultural climate. Speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter and David Horowitz all had their speeches cancelled at UC Berkeley during Free Speech Week; Ben Shapiro had his invitation to speak at California State University at Los Angeles revoked, later allowing him after he threatened legal action; and unreasonable security fees are a prevalent method of preventing controversial, often conservative, speakers from making appearances on college campuses.
“Policies such as 700-70 demonstrate that free speech can be infringed upon and can be exercised at the university’s personal discretion.”
UCR’s speech codes allow for arbitrary interpretations. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an organization whose mission is to “defend and sustain the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities” has rated UCR as a yellow light institution. According to FIRE, “a ‘yellow light’ institution is one whose policies restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression.” Policies that can arbitrarily prohibit free speech have the ability to silence the more “inconvenient” voices.
With that being said, it is understandable that UCR would want restrictions on volume level in demonstrations. This is likely why assemblies of less than 25 are allowed without prior notice. It’s certainly true that in an academic environment, it is important to not have disruptions that can interfere with students’ ability to learn. Additionally, protests spurred without proper notice can be antagonistic and dangerous, as has been demonstrated by the mob that caused damage to UC Berkeley in 2017, as well as dozens of similar examples of violence and destruction on college campuses. Violence can be so severe at universities that an individual was non-fatally shot at a Milo event at the University of Washington in 2017. These sorts of protests can account for the need for expensive security fees which frequently prohibit speakers from appearing at universities. Violent protesters may also be part and parcel of the reason policy 700-70 was enacted in 1992. Safety concerns, noise concerns and accountability concerns can all be cited as reasons why this policy is enforced at UCR.
Universities are the proverbial battlegrounds of free thought and free expression. Limitations on free speech are an unfortunate thing to be happening in institutions of higher learning, where students should be challenged intellectually. Furthermore, free speech is a constitutional right for all of us. The problem is policies such as 700-70 demonstrate that free speech can be infringed upon and can be exercised at the university’s personal discretion. Universities that receive public funding should not have such vague and arbitrary policies regarding free speech and free assembly within their campus. With the university enforcing free speech codes, full censorship seems a far more real possibility than ever before.
The myth behind the free speech war
By: Robert Gold, Contributing Writer
No matter what any right-wing college campus group might tell you, free speech is not under attack in this country.
Public universities aren’t public spaces, they are private property. They are not open to the public to be used freely for this parade or that protest or some rally whenever people feel like it. A university may be funded by your public tax dollars and mine, but if the free speech codes and regulations put in place by universities were to be eliminated, corporations and cult-like companies (like Herbalife) would take advantage of this to recruit young people and use college campuses as their main feeding ground. Free speech regulations are meant to protect our students from being preyed upon by corporate oligarchs who often prey on the masses in the outside world. And college students, most of whom are young people themselves, are incredibly impressionable creatures.
Free speech codes don’t arbitrarily pick on right-wing groups, they affect everybody. The protest of Nov. 14 is prefaced on the idea that right-wing groups like YAL and the College Republicans are often times unfairly targeted. But this is untrue; left-wing groups receive similar treatment, far-right speakers have held rallies on university campuses and many right-wing political pundits do speak on college campuses.
In addition, online videos show ANTIFA (a well-known leftist political group) getting tear gassed by cops at dozens of different protests. Even when the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) has rallies, the police still protect them (who represent the most extreme far-right people on the planet). National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie (1977) involved a First Amendment issue, in which the American Civil Liberties Union defended the rights of the American Nazi Party to hold a rally in a small town in Illinois, which was known to be largely populated by Jewish holocaust survivors.
Richard Spencer was allowed to speak on campus at the University of Florida, and Richard Spencer is about as far right as it gets. In addition to Richard Spencer, more mainstream right-wing figures are allowed to speak on college campuses all the time. For example, just a few of the right-leaning figures who have most recently launched college book tours in the past 2 years include Ben Shapiro, Milo Yiannopoulos, Mike Cernovich, Dave Rubin, Jordan Peterson, Gavin McInnes and many others.
No matter how free free speech is, it still comes with consequences.
Free speech zone laws are the main thing that the Nov. 14 rally will be dealing with. The policies require groups, organizations and clubs on-campus to file their paperwork several days in advance to inform the school administration of their impending protest, rally or march. But if we didn’t have free speech zones, any group such as the KKK, ANTIFA, Alt-Right, Nation of Islam or Black Panther Party could theoretically stalk the hallways. These groups, within their First Amendment rights, could put the decorum of our classrooms at risk.
In recantation, the Milos and Ben Shapiros of today are not the Kent State Vietnam War protesters of the 1960s. Jordan Peterson is not John Lennon. Mike Cernovich is not Martin Luther King. And Gavin McInnes certainly isn’t Robert F. Kennedy. If these are the men who are to spearhead the free speech movement of the 21st century, these men are poor excuses for civil rights leaders. These right-wing, so-called free speech fundamentalists are merchants of chaos, peddlers of controversy, who make racially-motivated political commentary and call it free speech. These men go to college campuses and say outlandishly misogynistic and homophobic things and then wonder why students riot. No, no, no sir, these men should not and will not be the faces of the free speech movement of my generation. To allow these men to hijack our institutions of learning and use college campuses as their breeding ground for their alt-right propaganda is to spit on the Founding Fathers, the First Amendment and every decent thing this nation stands for.
Free speech isn’t free. Free speech is a fundamental right that must be handled with care; if we allow people to run wild with the First Amendment, we would live in a chaotic society. No matter how free free speech is, it still comes with consequences.
We can’t spit on the First Amendment. We have to treat it with respect. The Founding Fathers didn’t create the First Amendment for the Milos, Shapiros and Spencers of the world. Political activism should not be equated with controversial internet trolls like Milo trying to purposefully piss people off for publicity to increase their book sales.