UC Berkeley “reversed its decision to cancel a speech by the conservative author Ann Coulter, approving her to appear on campus in early May,” the New York Times reported this afternoon. The stakes of protecting the May event are high, for all of the reasons discussed below. If successful, Berkeley will reverse a dangerous trend that threatened everyone’s rights. Its leaders deserve credit for hearing criticism and reconsidering their chosen course.
On Wednesday, the University of California, Berkeley, announced that it was canceling a scheduled speech by Ann Coulter, citing security concerns. Just weeks ago, Berkeley cancelled a speech by Milo Yiannopolous after armed radicals clad in black overwhelmed event security, threw Molotov cocktails in the street, and smashed windows at the campus student union. That was “not a proud night for this campus, the home of the free speech movement,” a UC Berkeley spokesperson said, while the Los Angeles Times editorialized that the success of the violence “should make supporters of free speech shiver.”
And this week’s news bolsters that assessment.
When violence successfully stopped the Yiannopolous event, an incentive was created for threats of future violence and for violence itself. Thus, the clash in Berkeley two days ago between Trump supporters and leftists that Mother Jones’s Shane Bauer characterized as follows: “Militias, alt-right, nazis etc won today in Berkeley. They outnumbered the opposition, pushed it back, and held downtown.” That a second speech is now postponed due to more threats of violence from the far left compounds the problem. Berkeley, a public institution, is compelled by both the Constitution and California law to protect free speech, even if campus Republicans there continue to degrade themselves by abetting or being fooled by nihilistic performance artists—and even if campus leftists invite the most odious of their fellow travelers.