Free speech muzzled at Berkeley Law School

The suppression of any discourse that does not conform to hegemonic ideologies is not a rare phenomenon in universities today. What is now labeled “cancel culture” is dedicated to purging thoughts and ideas that conflict with liberal notions or the radical ramblings of social justice warriors. This unfortunate trend has also manifested itself in law schools, where lawyers-in-training do not hesitate to limit the speech of those with whom they disagree.

In March, for example, student activists from the UC Hastings School of Law vigorously disturbed an appearance by conservative jurist Ilya Shapiro at an event hosted by the Federalist Society. Shapiro, the new executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for the Constitution, experienced this collective anger and opprobrium when he critical President Joe Biden’s promise to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court.

By the time Shapiro arrived to deliver his speech, activists associated with the Hastings Black Law Students’ Association had already hatched a plan to use the “heckler’s veto” to shut down the event. Student protesters in the classroom blocked the podium as Shapiro tried to speak and shouted “black lawyers matter” while banging on the desks.

At Yale Law School, some 120 students severely disrupted another march an event which featured Kristen Waggoner, senior lawyer for the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) party. Ironically, Wagoner was appearing on a panel discussing free speech issues. However, once activists said ADF was “anti-gay,” it didn’t matter what she said at the event. Yale Law School’s Moral Rebukes had already decided she should be canceled and they loudly and aggressively closed her speech.

The latest example of this unfortunate trend has taken place at Berkeley Law School, where Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP) launched a campaign to convince the school’s 100 student organizations to adopt a settlement. pre-written anti-Israeli.

“The LSJP is pleased to announce that several Berkeley Law student affinity groups and clubs have passed a pro-Palestine settlement depriving all funds from institutions and corporations complicit in the occupation of Palestine and prohibiting future use funds to these companies! the band wrote in an August Instagram Publish. “LSJP calls on ALL student organizations at Berkeley Law to take an anti-racist, anti-settler colonial stance and enact the settlement into their constitutions as soon as possible!”

In addition to urging student groups to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, the regulations included highly troubling language that called for the removal of any speech that could be considered pro-Israel or pro-Israel. Zionist. This included a speech intended to correct the many factual and historical inaccuracies in the pro-Palestinian narrative inherent in the insidious settlement.

“In the interest of protecting the safety and well-being of Palestinian students on campus,” the rule reads, groups adopting it “will not invite speakers who have expressed and continued to hold opinions or organize/sponsor/promote events in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel and the occupation of Palestine.

In language that is Orwellian in its attempt to portray bigotry as a virtue, the regulations state that student groups must proclaim that they “publicly state the organization’s position on anti-racism and anti-settler colonialism.” speakers, ensuring that speaker proposals emphasize the organization’s desire for equality and inclusion. All of this with the supposed aim of creating “a safe and inclusive space for Palestinian students and students who support the liberation of Palestine.”

After law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky lightly criticized the settlement during a letter, LSJP returned to Instagram to suggest that free speech should only be enjoyed by the oppressed and “marginalized” like them. Anyone who supports Israel’s racist apartheid regime should not have access to the same expression, they argued. It is perfectly reasonable, they asserted, that pro-Israel dialogue should be suppressed.

“Free speech and the exchange of ideas cannot be romanticized when the byproduct of such rhetoric harms marginalized communities,” the letter read. “The action of affinity groups to exercise democracy and choose not to platform Zionists, who are either active or complicit in causing harm to Palestinians, to be platform in their spaces is absolutely a tenable action. “

The idea that a vocal minority of self-important student ideologues can determine what opinions may or may not be expressed at a particular law school is not only contrary to the purpose of a university, but vaguely fascist. It grants the power to a few to decide what can be said and what should be suppressed. It’s what former Yale University president Bartlett Giamatti called the “tyranny of group complacency.”

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian debate, these activists suppress any speech that defends Israel and against the lies, distortions and slanders apparent in the language of the LSJP regulations. In other words, pro-Palestinian activists will not tolerate any challenge to their rancid ideology. There’s a reason for that: if criticism of their talking points were allowed, people would see them for the lies they are.

The Berkeley student groups that adopted the settlement have shown breathtaking boldness and hypocrisy, taking it upon themselves to decide which ideas can be heard and which can and should be censored. This is done in the name of protecting the sensitivities and “safety” of Palestinians on campus while completely ignoring the feelings of Jewish students and other supporters of Israel.

The ideology of these activists assumes that some ideas are morally superior to others by default and that only those ideas deserve to be expressed. They seem to believe that they alone have the knowledge and insight necessary to assess the value of a speaker’s intellectual contributions, and that they should have the power to control and “cancel” speakers who might defy the atmosphere. anti-Israel poison that is prevalent on many campuses.

Ironically, however, their censorship leaves these students woefully unprepared for the real world. When and if they become lawyers, they will face competing arguments, convince judge and jury, and successfully defend their clients based on reason, facts, legal precedent, and intellectual capacity. They will not be able to shut down and suppress the speech of others in the courtroom or present only their side of a case without the other side presenting theirs.

College is meant to be a place where the decorum and procedures observed in a court of law are fundamental to the advancement of learning. This is why universities exist, and why any attempt to suppress certain speech is contrary to what the university stands for and, whether in law school or in a courtroom, unfettered freedom of speech is essential. That’s true, as Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, even “for the thought we hate.”

Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., Fellow of the Freedom Center Journalism in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of the forthcoming book The Slow Death of the University: How Radicalism, Israel – Racial hatred and obsession are destroying academia.

Jon J. Epps