Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Chemerinsky & Gillman: Free Speech Doesn’t Mean Hecklers Get To Shut Down Campus Debate


Washington Post Op-Ed:  Free Speech Doesn’t Mean Hecklers Get to Shut Down Campus Debate, by Erwin Chemerinsky (Dean, UC-Berkeley) & Howard Gillman (Chancellor, UC-Irvine): 

Hastings YaleFreedom of speech does not include a right to shout down others so they cannot be heard. Two recent incidents at law schools where protesting students sought to keep invited speakers from addressing their audiences are deeply troubling. In both cases, those defending the disruptive students have said their actions came under the constitutional protection of freedom of speech. That is wrong in terms of both the law and appropriate campus policy. ...

It is profoundly disturbing that some students [at UC-Hastings and Yale law schools] assert a right to determine what messages are acceptable on a campus and try to deprive others within the community of their right to invite or listen to speakers of their choice.

If such a “heckler’s veto” is allowed, the only speech that occurs will be that which no one cares enough about to shout down. If the Hastings protesters believe that they are entitled to drown out speakers invited by the Federalist Society, then they must accept that nothing prevents Federalist Society members from drowning out speakers that they support. Before too long, no one would be able to hold any events worth attending. ...

It is especially problematic when the students attempting to silence other viewpoints are lawyers in training. How are legal professionals to argue cases if they are unwilling to hear from, and learn to respond to, the opposing side of current debates?

Although the goal of inclusivity is noble and imperative, silencing speech cannot be the way to achieve it. Colleges must take affirmative steps to create inclusive environments, but this cannot come about by suppressing expression or allowing protesters to silence unpopular speakers.

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