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If you’d seen the multiple reports of campus speakers being shouted down (or very nearly so) on university campuses and thought, “there sure seems to be a lot of this going around,” I’m here to tell you: You’re not wrong. I’ve been on the staff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for 14 years now, and even by our standards the “heckler’s veto” seems to be having a heck of a run.
Consider these cases from recent weeks:
- At the University of California Hastings College of the Law, Ilya Shapiro, speaking at the invitation of the law school’s Federalist Society, was subject to almost a full hour of taunting, screaming, and verbal abuse by protesters, preventing him from even commencing his talk. The shutdown of his event, caught on video, was demonstrably over Shapiro’s comments criticizing President Biden for restricting his list of possible nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court based on race and sex — comments which got him wrongly suspended from his position at Georgetown Law.
- At the University of North Texas, members of the Young Conservatives of Texas student group likewise were largely unable to hear from state legislative candidate Jeff Younger, as protestors hurled expletives, banged tables, and rang noisemakers to drown him out. Younger initially appeared to welcome the disruption, but could not be heard over the noise for a majority of the event. Police escorted him out of the classroom, 40 minutes short of his allotted time, to the jeering of audience members.
- Yale Law students substantially derailed a Federalist Society panel featuring Monica Miller of the American Humanist Association and Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom. This event made it to its conclusion, though only under conditions no event should have to suffer through, as audio newly obtained by FIRE illustrates. As my colleague Zach Greenberg writes, “Protesters banged on walls, stomped on the ground, chanted ‘[REDACTED] you FedSoc,’ and screamed at the panelists, creating so much noise that classes and events in the same building were disrupted.” Yale, to its discredit, held to the position that its students’ disruptive actions were somehow consistent with its policies.
Why students would so eagerly legitimize a censorship tactic they would never find acceptable if used against speakers they support persistently eludes me. Mob censorship isn’t free expression; as FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff writes, the wrongness of arguments to the contrary “is so obvious that, I believe, those who make this argument either do so in bad faith, or have not thought through the implications of this position.”
What the sorry spectacle at Yale Law illustrates is the role that administrators who know better play in this legitimization as well. Yale Law should take a cue from the UC Hastings’ leadership, which denounced the Shapiro disruption not only as unworthy of a higher education institution, but unworthy especially of those training “for a profession in which they will prevail through the power of analysis and argument.”Published in