UC Irvine Chancellor Speaks Up for Free Speech:

The L.A. Times reports:

UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake ... tried to explain [Wednesday] that campus events seen by some as anti-Semitic are actually expressions of constitutionally protected free speech.

Drake met with more than 600 members of the county's Jewish community who expressed concern about what they perceived as anti-Semitic activity on campus, much of it involving Muslim students....

UCI has become a flashpoint in the national Israeli-Arab debate that has created hard feelings between Muslims and Jews. This month, Muslim students on campus sponsored a presentation, "Israel: Apartheid Resurrected," protesting that country's policies toward Palestinians.

It was the latest in a series of events that have sparked tension between the groups on campus, with some Jewish students complaining that the exhibit relayed a message of anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews.

On Wednesday, Drake heard complaints that Jewish students were afraid to be on campus and was challenged repeatedly to draw a line between free speech and hate speech. But he said it was an impractical and impossible assignment.

"Free speech means simply that: free speech," he told one questioner.

To another, he said: "Speech is protected. It can be hateful. It can be wrong. It can be vile." Unlike speech, he added, violent acts are not protected.

The chancellor repeatedly said he found anti-Semitism abhorrent, calling it "the utterance of fools." But he also said the right of free speech allows Muslim students to sponsor speakers with whom he disagrees....

Sounds exactly right to me. If Jewish students are assaulted or threatened for being Jewish or pro-Israel (or anything else), that should be punished -- and if UCI isn't using adequate efforts to do this, then it should be faulted for that. But expression of anti-Semitic views should remain protected, just as expression of other views should remain protected.

As to the quote from "community member Richard Meyers" -- "[The Chancellor] keeps saying that he abhors hate speech, but he's unwilling to take a position on the issue of what to do about anti-Semitic activity" -- it sounds to me like the Chancellor (1) does abhor hate speech, (2) does take a position for punishing anti-Semitic violence, and (3) does take a position against punishing anti-Semitic speech. And these items are perfectly consistent: University chancellors may (and should) protect even speech they abhor, and distinguish protected speech from unprotected violence.

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Some Distinctions, Please:

Commenter Pete writes, on the UC Irvine thread:

There have been incidents of violence by muslims against non muslims at UCI including throwing a cinderblock at an FBI agent's car, muslim students disrupted Daniels Pipes speech, student housing was defaced with swastikas, and here is a rather hateful speech called "Israel the 4th Reich" by Amir Abdel Malik Ali sponsored by the campus Muslim Student Union.

For those interested in what the chancellor is defending, here is a video of one of the events where the speaker blames Jews for 9/11 and where the blogger doing the videotaping is thrown out when discovered. The blogger was also followed by and assaulted by Muslims after they found out he was video taping the event.

I've heard similar catalogs from others who are faulting UCI, and seemingly calling for more speech restrictions.

The trouble is that this mixes together a great deal of behavior, some of which should clearly be punished -- though by punishment of the attackers, not restrictions on the speech of coreligionists -- and some of which is constitutionally protected.

Thus of course students who throw cinderblocks at cars, vandalize student housing, and assault people should be criminally punished, and punished by the university as well. If the police or UCI knew who the criminals were, had proof that they committed the crimes, and failed to punish them, that should be strongly faulted; likewise if the police or UCI didn't investigate the crimes adequately. But if the swastika drawers were simply never found, despite a reasonable investigation, then there's little to fault the police and UCI for. Certainly UCI can't punish Muslim student groups generally for the acts of individual Muslim students (unless there's some evidence that the group was actively involved in the act), much less for acts in which the actor is unknown.

Likewise, people who disrupt speakers (assuming we're talking about noise, rushing the stage, and the like, and not just holding a peaceful but offensive protest outside) should be disciplined. If you have evidence that UCI had the goods on them but didn't properly discipline them -- or refused to get the goods on them -- then pass them along, and we can decide to fault UCI for that. But again the penalties would have been punishing the students, not shutting down extremist Muslim events organized by other students.

But a "rather hateful speech called 'Israel the 4th Reich'" is, well, speech. The freedom of speech surely extends to expressions of hatred and hostility to foreign governments (or for that matter one's own government), however unfair or bigoted those expressions might be. Likewise, a "speaker [who] blames Jews for 9/11" is a speaker, engaged in speech. The freedom of speech likewise extends to arguing that there are government coverups and malign conspiracies, even when we think such theories are foolish and hateful.

University chancellors should defend the right to engage in such speech. And certainly the fact that some Muslim students have engaged in vandalism and assault doesn't warrant a university's stopping other Muslim students from inviting other Muslim speakers who want to engage in constitutionally protected speech.

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  1. Some Distinctions, Please:
  2. UC Irvine Chancellor Speaks Up for Free Speech: