If you know a good constitutional law professor, please introduce me to her. I'm confused about the First Amendment, and I need answers.
Until yesterday, for example, I never realized that forcibly shutting down a private speaking event was considered free speech. I was also surprised to learn that assaulting a police officer is now a form of protest. It certainly never occurred to me that making violent threats towards a speaker was a constitutionally protected right. In fact, I was pretty confident all three of these acts were illegal...highly illegal.
Yet, yesterday I saw radical protestors do all three of these things, without consequence. DePaul University administrators looked on dispassionately, as if this was an every-day occurrence. Watching this all unfold, I had to wonder for a moment whether DePaul administrators were defending some bizarre form of free speech I had never heard of.
They weren’t. They knew they were tolerating a dangerous suppression of speech, but in the face of adversity they chose to do the easy thing, rather than the just thing. As usual.
Years of inaction by university administrators has left radical student activists feeling they are immune from the law. Free from consequences, or dissenting opinions, endowed with a feeling of moral high-ground, students have taken increasingly drastic steps to suppress other opinions, and conservative opinions in particular.
I watched from the front row yesterday as a whistle-blowing “protester” stormed the stage of an event featuring conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, with about a dozen more radicals following behind him. The event was privately organized by students, requiring months of planning and painstaking fundraising, but that never even factored into their heads. Administrators have handed them a bubble, a "safe space" where they don't need to consider the impact of their actions on other students.
One protester forced a microphone out of the hands of the event’s student moderator and screamed into it. She danced to the sound of the audience's boos, and berated a woman who came to confront her. She was screamed off the stage when she tried to appeal to the radical's humanity, "I know your parents didn't raise you to be disrespectful". Her parents didn't, but her university did.
Another protester threatened Yiannopoulos with physical violence, and yelled at disgruntled audience members to shut the #$%@ up. Other protesters blew whistles into the Public addressed system, deafening the 550 students who had travelled from across the midwest (some driving four hours or more) to see Yiannopoulos speak.
While an invited speaker was harassed and harangued by protesters, DePaul administrators cowered indecisively in a corner. Faced with a serious challenge to first-amendment rights on their campus, they were visibly frightened of confronting the protesters, who tied themselves to the"Black Lives Matter" movement.
Administrators had fought against hosting the conservative event for over three months. As they watched the event unravel, they seemed almost relieved to see the radical protesters fulfill their wishes. The rights implications were utterly lost on them. All they wanted was a nice, quiet, homogeneously-thinking campus.
Only days before the event, administrators had demanded that DePaul College Republicans, the club that hosted the event, pay hundreds of extra dollars in security costs. This was a clear breach of contract, but the organizers paid the fee under threat of cancellation. Yet, after ordering a dozen security officers, the administrators prevented them from restoring order, forcing them to stand down.
I talked to a few of the dozen Chicago police officers eventually called into the building, and they were irate. They were well-trained, and well-equipped to handle scenarios such as this. They wanted to do their job, and remove the protesters, but administrators demanded they stand passively and watch. Once again, violence prevailed over free speech on a liberal college campus, and the administration was 100% complicit.
This is an incredibly serious issue. Students who go through US universities will lead our country through a challenging future. If they are not exposed to a variety of viewpoints, they are at a serious disadvantage in meeting those challenges. This is the rare issue where leaders from both parties, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump all agree; yet university administrators at DePaul, and across the country refused to confront the issue, afraid to take a stand against militant activism.
When administrators told Yiannopoulos his event was done, he was fuming. He called on his supporters to go with him to the offices of DePaul's president, to lodge a formal complaint. Five hundred people walked towards the administrative building to chants of “USA" and "Let him speak". Fifteen minutes later they arrived at the president's office to find his door locked and barricaded. There would be no open dialogue today.