Last week the California State Senate held the second committee hearing in two weeks on “hate speech” couched as “Violent Protests and Police Response.” Democrats were once again seeking approval for legislation on thought crimes. This is a dangerous path as countries without a First Amendment have demonstrated. Writer Andrew Sullivan says, “writers and speakers are now routinely hauled into court for hurting someone’s feelings or violating some new PC edict. In Canada, it is now a crime to use pronouns that have served the English language well enough for centuries, if you are not careful.”
This subjective PC speech policing is what California Democrats are also seeking, and particularly those Democrats from Berkeley. Sen. Nancy Skinner, a former Democrat Assemblywoman from Berkeley well-known for her love of gun control laws, now a State Senator, said she wanted to discuss charging much higher fees for those “controversial” speakers who have been invited to speak at UC Berkeley. Sen. Skinner – never one to let the U.S. Constitution to get in the way of her agenda – needs to read up on the First Amendment.
Sen. Joel Anderson, R-El Cajon, chimed in after Skinner’s fee preference and gave her a crash course in First Amendment law saying, “free speech is not just for rich people, it’s for poor people too.”
All public colleges and universities are required under the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution to uphold and protect free speech rights on campus. “This is not open for discussion,” said Shelby Emmett, the Director of the Center to Protect Free Speech at American Legislative Exchange Council. “University officials at public universities do not get to pick and choose when to protect these rights, they have a duty to do so.” Emmett appeared at the hearing, but just as with Shapiro, was not allowed to speak on a panel, and was relegated to two-minutes during the public comment period. I then interviewed Emmett the following day.
Yet many colleges and universities claim their campuses are supposed to be safe spaces, where students who feel oppressed or “offended” can feel more secure.
However, the First Amendment doesn’t say you have freedom of speech so long as it’s not offensive.
As Emmett has observed, some public colleges and universities continue to operate “as if there is an asterisk next to the First Amendment.” This was evident at the Senate Public Safety hearing – a kangaroo court if ever there was one, couched under the cloak of “public safety.”
The entire campus faculty, staff and, students are in desperate need of an education on free speech. As Emmett has said at nearly all of the hearings in which she testifies on free speech, “This is important because leadership starts at the top. We can’t expect the freshman student to respect free speech rights on campus if his professors or Dean do not respect free speech rights.”
UC Berkeley has been in the news far too frequently of late with images of black masked, and black clad Antifa thugs protesting and beating on students attempting to attend speeches by Conservative speakers. Given that liberal speakers are in abundance on the Berkeley campus, one would think that a little variety, and a little diversity of thought, would not be a threat.
In September, journalist Ben Shapiro visited the University of California, Berkeley to deliver a speech about personal responsibility and individualism. The very mention of Shapiro’s name had students fleeing for campus safe spaces. Yet, Shapiro had spoken on the Berkeley campus the year before, with no additional cost for security. At his September appearance, the school ended up spending $600,000 on additional policing, erecting cement barriers, and hiring of hundreds of armed police officers for a prospective riot.
The UCLA Republicans have also been trying to arrange a speech by Ben Shapiro, who happens to be a UCLA graduate. His speech was expected to draw about 600 attendees. UCLA, though, eventually told the Bruin Republicans that this speech would be governed by the 70-30 provision in Costs of Safety Services Policy.
However, Eugene Volohk, Constitutional Law and free speech law Professor at UCLA warned:
If the policy is haphazardly applied, for instance only when administrators think about it because the speaker has drawn protests in the past, then it is in practice too discretionary, too pregnant with the possibility of viewpoint discrimination and thus unconstitutional.
There is clearly is a free speech problem on campus.
Brown University President Christina Paxson explained during a 2016 commencement address that a reporter had recently asked school officials if Brown had established any “safe spaces” on campus. “What on earth are they referring to?” Paxson said. “Idea-free zones staffed by thought police, where disagreement is prohibited?” the Goldwater Institute reported. Because of the lack of free speech on campuses throughout the country, the Goldwater Institute introduced a model bill designed to ensure free expression within America’s public university systems, to strengthen freedom of speech at private colleges and universities.
Conservative students, college Republicans and pro-life students are frequent targets of overly aggressive campus officials. But Shelby Emmett warns the Right should be careful when accusing the Left of blocking speech rights. “We can have every judge on our side, but at the end of the day, if we as individuals aren’t OK with free speech, then it doesn’t matter. If you are uncomfortable with what someone says to you, and you want to censor them, it doesn’t matter how many lawsuits we win or how many laws we pass. We still lose.”
Last week, William A. Jacobson, Professor of Law and Director of the Securities Law Clinic at Cornell Law School, gave a speech at Vassar College on “An Examination of Hate Speech and Free Speech on College Campuses.” The primary sponsor was the Vassar Conservative Libertarian Union, which also sponsored Jacobson’s 2014 speech at Vassar. Other sponsors were Students for Liberty and the Leadership Institute. Jacobson explained what happened:
“Regardless of title, the planned discussion of hate speech sent a portion of the campus into a vicious smear campaign against me.
Hundreds of students, faculty and staff on campus were whipped into a frenzy by false and malicious accusations, originating it appears with a student group Healing 2 Action, but also spread by the Vassar Student Association. In addition to maligning me personally, accusations were spread falsely claiming White Nationalist supporters might come to campus to target students of color, LGBT students, Jewish students and others.”
“Despite all the agitation and hysteria, the event went off without complication,” Jacobson wrote at his website Legal Insurrection. “Vassar provided excellent security both for me personally and for the event venue. The turnout was excellent, approximately 200 students in the room (full capacity) plus overflow in the hallway. The students who attended, even the ones who showed up wearing black in protest, listened intently. I think they were expecting someone and something very different based on the campus hysteria. I addressed the hysteria in my lecture.
After my lecture, we had over an hour-long question and answer session, and almost all the students stayed to the very end. The questions were thoughtful and in many instances quite challenging, the students respectful, and I think we all learned something.”
Upholding the Law without Chilling Speech
“The First Amendment restricts the government, not the people,” Shelby Emmett explained. “In legal terms, this basically means the state can only restrict speech if it has a compelling interest, it does it in the least restrictive means possible, and it leaves room for alternative forms of expression.”
“Hate speech is a subjective thing we’ve created in our heads,” Sen. Joel Anderson reminded the hearing attendees. Emmett warned that creating policies off of tantrums is no way to legislate. “If adults on these campuses told the students to get over it, they would,” she said. “Government needs to focus on what government is supposed to do: free speech, make sure the cities have water, and garbage service.”
As Jacobson experienced, the Vassar campus frenzy “intended to portray me as a threat to campus safety (and other things, as well) never was based on reality. It was similar to falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, but even worse, because it falsely blamed a real person (me) for the fictitious fire. There is a malevolence on the Vassar campus, among a small but potent percentage of the student body, faculty and staff, that the Vassar administration has not come to grips with. Instead, people falsely claiming I posed a threat to campus safety had their baseless reactions recognized as legitimate.”
What’s really going on in the California Legislature is an attempt to redefine “free speech.” Following the Charlottesville, VA protests in August, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, announced that the California Senate would investigate the rise in white supremacy in California… As if what happens in Charlottesville, 2,314 miles across the country, is relevant to California.
Claiming a “rising tide of hate and intolerance,” at issue is Kevin de León’s and Democrats’ inability to abide by the 2016 election and this duly elected president, as I wrote in my new book co-authored with James Lacy, “California’s War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?” Consequently, the entire state must go through this pretentious parody of hate speech hearings.
This charade is really about is California Democrats and the left conflating a spurious rise in “racial strife” to the 2016 presidential campaign and President Donald Trump. Every day the Senate and Assembly are in session, Democrat lawmakers rise to speak grouse and whimper and wail about Donald Trump and the 2016 election – at the expense of the actual governing of a state they all proclaim to care so much about.
Political Journalist, Saucy Cynic, Quintessential Analyst. Never a Stenographer. Katy Grimes is a longtime political journalist, analyst and writer. As a credentialed Capitol reporter, Senior Correspondent for the Flash Report, and Senior Media Fellow with E&E Legal, Katy covers the California Legislature and state agency politics from the State Capitol. A California native, Katy lives in Sacramento with her husband Terry. Her son is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, now a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. 916.417.6780