Putting the Brakes on the Hecklers’ Veto

Putting the Brakes on the Hecklers’ Veto

Stories from the Right and the Left in today’s (always invaluable) daily update from the Center for Competitive Politics. From Brooklyn, Liberty Nation reports on an “assault” on a Fox News host Kat Timpf, which consisted of being “doused” by a water bottle, but had its intended effect of making her too upset to speak. And Tracey Tapp, of Progressives NorthWest Florida, believes that some of her organization’s members are “are afraid to be vocal about their views because it could hurt their business or negatively impact their children in school.“As the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote concurring in Doe v. Reed, participation in politics sometimes does require “civic courage.” But moving to violence is, in fact, the “red line” beyond which protest turns to criminality.

And the “hecklers’ veto” was on vivid display at this spring’s violent attacks and craven campus administrators’ surrenders at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Ironically, the professor bearing the brunt of the students’ attacks describes himself as a long-time progressive and defender of the First Amendment. Video is available from HBO’s Vice News.

Recent violent speech protests at small private colleges such as Middlebury have resulted in injuries. So it is heartening in today’s world of shouting down speakers on campus to read that one of the Claremont Colleges in Claremont, California, did, in fact, do something when protestors turned to violence. (Disclosure: my wife and I are both graduates of Pomona College, founding member of the Claremont Colleges). The schools have periodically gone insane, as when they hired avowed Communist Angela Davis in the 1970’s as a slap at conservative Board members. But they, like other colleges, are finally starting to realize what a danger having “gag mobs” rule their campuses may be, and reiterated their support for free speech on campus.

Now, however, Claremont McKenna College, one of the Claremont Colleges, went further and suspended ten students for their participation in “heckler’s veto” violence. In April, violent crowds of students shoved and attacked people, including faculty and students, who wanted to hear conservative speaker Heather MacDonald. As a result, MacDonald had to give her speech over a video link. Following her speech, some students argued that “Truth is a tool of white supremacy,” and other idiotic nonsense. CMC issued a statement on the suspensions:

The blockade breached institutional values of freedom of expression and assembly. furthermore, this action violated policies of both the College and The Claremont Colleges that prohibit material disruption of college programs and created unsafe conditions in disregard of state law.”

This recognition of colleges’ responsibilities to free speech is not shared by everyone. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) recently mused that protecting free speech on campus is too expensive, and could lead to another “Kent State.” Fortunately, UCLA Law professor Eugene Volokh was a panel witness at that hearing and a healthy discussion ensued.

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