An article in the Badger Herald, a student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, reminds us why the First Amendment rights of students and speakers invited to UW System schools need to be protected. It’s pretty clear that our education system, including our universities, are doing a poor job of educating our youth on the importance and meaning of free speech.
For example, a student named CV Vitolo-Haddad of the “Student Coalition for Progress” thinks it’s okay for his group to prevent speakers from being heard if the group disagrees with the message.
“Any speaker who is invited into our campus is welcome to come,” Vitolo-Haddad said to the Badger Herald. “Just know that if you come to our campus with the intent of stoking racism, of stoking homophobia, that you will be introduced to a group of students who are […] willing to drown out your message with messages of our own.”
That’s not free speech. That’s a mob preventing speech it doesn’t like. It’s a belief that their might (their ability to shout down speakers) makes their actions (actually doing it) okay. That’s more like fascism or the Chinese Cultural Revolution than free speech.
This is not just a hypothetical question. Vitolo-Haddad’s group was formed by students who attempted to shout down conservative speaker Ben Shapiro when he spoke in Madison.
The Badger Herald notes that leftwing protesters often claim that “hate speech is not free speech,” and they helpfully provide a picture of a protester carrying a sign saying that. Of course, there is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment, and there is no right not to be offended.
(At the same time, there is no right to make threats, either. The Badger Herald reports that a commenters on a YouTube video of Vitolo-Haddad threatened to rape her, shoot her and “finish” her. That’s more than just obnoxious, it’s criminal. While Vitolo-Haddad has no right to complain about the video of her speaking in public being made without her permission, she doesn’t deserve to be threatened or even called names.)
Of course, the university has an Orwellian idea of how to encourage dialogue on campus.
UW spokesman Meredith McGlone told the Badger Herald that to prevent harassment of conservatives on campus, McGlone would “encouraged students to report incidents of targeting based on political affiliation to UW’s bias reporting system. That way, the university can have an educational conversation with involved parties to eliminate ignorance on campus.”
If the university wants to eliminate ignorance on campus, a “bias reporting system” and a visit with the campus ministry of truth isn’t the answer. The answer is to start teaching students the importance of free speech on campus and expecting the faculty to recognize that as well.