Fight for free speech

UC Berkeley cancels visit from conservative speaker, citing safety concerns

COMMON GROUND — Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to Liberty University students on working together despite differing views. Photo Credit: Leah Seavers

COMMON GROUND — Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to Liberty University students on working together despite differing views.
Photo Credit: Leah Seavers

Hitler was not really that bad of a guy.

Black Lives Matter is worse than the Ku Klux Klan. Muslims should be banned from America.

All of these statements are blatantly false and should incite rage in anyone who reads them.

However, if these statements were not allowed to be read or heard, how would we learn to combat them?

This is the question faculty and students at universities all across the country should consider when discussing the boundaries of free speech.

Ann Coulter, a well known conservative columnist, was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley April 27.

However, the speech was cancelled due to the Berkeley staff’s safety concerns brought on by the riots in February when alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos spoke at an event.

“It is a sad day for free speech,” Coulter said in a statement to the New York Times April 26.

I agree with Coulter, but not in  the way she intended. Free speech should be protected in order to teach people how to debate differing views.

Creating safe spaces or banning a speaker only perpetuates the idea that society would rather silence opinions instead of allowing them to be expressed and contested.

“Being able to listen to disagreeable opinions when you’re that young and understanding what they’re saying and why is important to higher education,” Garrett Leatham, a University of Oregon student, said to CNN.

Many Berkeley students claimed the rhetoric of people like Coulter and Yiannopoulos is too extreme and should be silenced, but I believe this exposes the students’ ignorance on the subject.

“To me, it’s a sign of intellectual weakness,” Senator Bernie Sanders said.

“If you can’t ask Ann Coulter in a polite way questions which expose the weakness of her arguments, if all you can do is boo, or shut her down, or prevent her from coming, what does that tell the world?”

If we believe every human has a right to his or her own ideas, then we should also uphold the notion that they have a right to express them.

No matter how extreme or harmful someone’s rhetoric is, allowing them to voice their opinion provides the opportunity for logic and reason to overcome.

“What are you afraid of — her ideas?” Sanders said.

“Ask her the hard questions. Confront her intellectually. Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don’t think that works in any way.”

Many factors went into Berkeley’s decision to cancel Coulter’s event, such as the time and money involved.

Yet a factor that should never have been an issue was the fear of rioting by the students.

In the future, Berkeley and other universities should strive to create an atmosphere allowing true free speech, not an illusion of it.

Once we as intellectuals allow this to happen, hateful rhetoric will be overshadowed by open debate.

Jones is an opinion writer.

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