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Offending the First Amendment

UC Berkeley's decision to reschedule conservative political commentator Ann Coulter's visit raises questions about freedom of speech

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Stock image: Freedom of speach

Stock image: Freedom of speach

Stock image: Freedom of speach

Reginald Webb, Times Staff

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The Republican students at UC Berkeley are undoubtedly crafty in sparking a debate about free speech on their campus, but they are completely wrong about the First Amendment as it relates to them as students and the college’s obligation. Many, like Bernie Sanders, mistakenly believe as progressives they have to agree in their freedom to have whomever they want on campus to speak.

On the contrary, institutions should have some discretion as far as criteria for speaking at institutions of higher learning. Tim Wise, who spoke April 20, at San Jose City College, is an example of one who has certainly had his share of controversy, nevertheless was a wonderful choice to speak on a college campus.

Despite his admirers and detractors, he starts a conversation on a campus about timely issues of race and inequality that should take place in robust fashion on a college campus. While, he frames a lot of historical facts and statistics to argue his point of view, he is dealing with facts that require critical analysis of students. There is a base of facts from which the debate is being carried on.

Ann Coulter is not a reliable source of inspiration for healthy debate. She chooses to use shock and offensive rhetoric to incite anger and bigotry. Identity politics and dividing people is her priority as it sells her books and maintains her presence in the news and on television.

Entertainment is good and even on campus diverse entertainment should be allowed. However, Coulter’s brand of it can be so toxic. It instigates anger and potential violence deliberately. Free Speech was not meant to protect speech for the sake of insult and offense. First Amendment rights explicitly protects the American public from government censure it relates to religious freedom and worship, freedom of the press, and assembly. It does not mandate that as a result of these protections a University has to simply accept anyone to speak on a campus. Safety is a legitimate consideration as is the social value the college may gain from hosting the speaker. Also,the overall well-being of the colleges students, faculty, and employees must be considered. Civility and mutual respect for one another is essential with regard to campus life.

The students at UC Berkeley no full well the history of their institution as it relates to social justice and political activism. Using Ann Coulter to express hypocrisy with regard to the First Amendment really insults that legacy and reveals how polarized the greater society has become. Just the idea that the Republican student’s organizations would want to raise their profile on campus and in the news through Ann Coulter is sad and might warrant their parents getting a refund on their tuitions.

If campus life there has not inspired them to strive for vigorous critical analysis and a zest to make their beliefs and points of view more concise and clear then they are certainly not experiencing the UC Berkeley the world has come to know nor are they receiving the world class education UC Berkeley has been known to provide.

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Offending the First Amendment