Leftist students at universities and colleges across America in recent years routinely have claimed that as part of their constitutional “free speech” they have the right to shut down statements from those with whom they disagree.
And they have. Conservative speakers routinely find themselves canceled from scheduled appearances on campus because of this movement. And if a conservative is allowed to appear behind a podium, often the shouts and jeers and threats trigger the event to be shut down.
But now, constitutional expert Jonathan Turley has pointed out what could be a turning point in the assaults on conservative messages: a university has promised to hold those students who shut down free speech accountable.
He explained the recent incident was at the University of New Mexico where students “refused to let others hear” the remarks prepared by Fox News pundit Tomi Lahren.
That was routine.
But what wasn’t, he said, was that “the school is pledging to hold the students accountable.”
“Some of us have called for such action for years to quell the anti-free speech movement sweeping across campuses,” he said.
He cited campus groups that organized and threatened to not allow “racist rhetoric” from Lahren, even though her remarks weren’t racist.
Students “entered the auditorium chanting ‘f*** Tomi Lahren’ while others banged on the door,” he said. There were threats so serious Lahren and others in her entourage locked themselves in a “back room” until police arrived.
The school said, “The safety of our campus community and visitors is our first priority. We are deeply disappointed in the actions of those individuals who intentionally chose to disrupt a scheduled speaker and infringed upon the rights of the speaker and those who attended the event to listen and engage, vandalized University property, and unlawfully pulled a fire alarm. UNM is investigating these incidents and will hold anyone who violated the law or University policies accountable.”
Turley noted if the school keeps its promise, “it will be a rare example of such accountability,” as they often take no action against those “who deny the free speech of others.”
“That is a common pattern in schools ranging from Yale to Northwestern to Georgetown. Blocking others from speaking is not the exercise of free speech. It is the very antithesis of free speech. Nevertheless, faculty have supported such claims. CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek showed how far this trend has gone. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about ‘the importance of free speech,’ Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. (Bilek later canceled herself and resigned),” Turley explained.
He said the most chilling aspect, however, is the number of leftists who still applaud such antagonism.
The actions, deliberately creating chaos or even violence, to shut up someone else often is called a “heckler’s veto.”
The real defense of diverse viewpoints, he said, would be for the University of New Mexico to hold accountable offenders.
“Those who entered the event to disrupt it (or engaged in threatening conduct) should be reprimanded, suspended or expelled depending on the gravity of their conduct.”