Milo Yianopoulos would have spoken to only about 200 people when initially invited to Berkeley recently. But rioters succeeded in getting Milo banned from campus. The violent methods backfired as it brought attention to his conservative message to thousands nationwide. It’s an ironic journey that leads to North Carolina.
The University of California at Berkeley once banned outside political speakers from campus. In the spring of 1964 talks began with administration regarding lifting these restrictions.
On Dec. 2, 1964, nearly 4,000 students protested peacefully on campus. Joan Baez sang songs and a Jewish Channukah service was held. After the arrest of 800 students, the protests grew larger.
By Jan. 3, 1965, acting Chancellor Martin Meyerson designated an open discussion area during certain hours. This specifically included the entire political spectrum and not simply liberal students who had really started the movement.
Historically, it was these liberal students who wanted a platform on campus. But if political speech were to be allowed, the allowance had to be applied equally. It was a win for all in the end.
Everyone would like to think Berkeley was all about free speech. That would be nice. But honestly, Berkeley leaned left even in the 1960s and though the free speech movement was actually a good thing, it soon spurned a violent anti-Vietnam movement on campus. Riots began at other universities and things got complicated.
Ronald Reagan was elected California’s governor partly on the platform to clean up Berkeley. So the free speech movement started out with a noble premise. But leftists turned violent. There is both a bright side and a dark side to it.
Fast forward to the North Carolina General Assembly last week. HB 527 passed the House dubbed the, “Restore/Preserve Campus Free Speech” bill. Championed by Lt. Gov Dan Forest, it really accomplishes the same things the free speech movement wanted on campus in 1964.
Democrats oppose it. They want to spin that it “regulates” speech. But speech and thought regulation on campus is what it is trying to reverse. There currently are “safe zones” where thought is regulated along with restrictive speech codes. Campuses are no longer bastions of free speech where many views are welcome. The bill does the opposite of regulating speech, as universities are already regulating thought. The bill lifts these regulations.
If passed, universities would create policies affirming free expression and it would nullify existing restrictive speech codes. Administrators cannot ban speakers invited by members of the campus community. It establishes disciplinary action for students who interfere with the free-speech rights of others. It also reaffirms that universities should remain neutral on controversial issues allowing the widest range of dialogue possible on campus.
The bill isn’t going to suddenly make campuses a balanced forum of ideas nor is it going to punish peaceful protests. But it does reaffirm the First Amendment. It also upholds many protections already in state law. At most, it lifts restrictive speech codes and forces administrations to take neutral stances on controversial issues. A 2016 study revealed that liberal professors outnumber conservative professors 12 to one so neutrality may be a novel concept on campus.
Democrats are right when they say students shouldn’t be punished for protesting speakers, which is exerting their free speech as well. Republicans agree, so that argument is moot. As long as protesters are not violently preventing speakers from attending campus functions, no problem.
Shutting down speakers with whom they disagree is the liberal’s version of book burning and has to stop. It’s sad that universities lean left and are intolerant of conservative thought coercing young minds to be afraid of ideas that challenge them. Ideas and liberty should flourish on campus, not die there.
The irony is that left wing activists started the free speech movement 50 years ago. Then they became violent. Today, it’s conservatives that must fight for free speech while the left opposes it, but still remains violent.
Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.