Campus Free Speech

Notre Dame Students Who Protested Mike Pence Did Not Violate His Free Speech Rights

Walking out of a commencement address isn't censorship.


Cheriss May/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Vice President Mike Pence gave the commencement address at Notre Dame University on Sunday, and about 100 students walked out of the stadium as soon as he started talking.

These individuals had every right to protest Pence. They did not violate his free speech rights, or anyone else's. They did not prove that they are delicate snowflakes who refuse to listen to other people's ideas.

Students who left told The New York Times that they were expressing opposition to the Trump administration's policies and also registering their disagreement with Pence's stances toward gay people and Syrian refugees. (As governor of Indiana, Pence said he would not let Syrian refugees enter the state and was one of the most anti-LGBT Republican leaders.) It's hard to fault them for wanting to make a statement against Pence. The policies they cited are in fact bad. The students, to their credit, didn't heckle the vice president or prevent him from speaking. They simply declined to play the part of a captive audience.

Pence used the opportunity to decry the fact that some campuses are besieged by the forces of "safe zones, tone policing, and administration-sanctioned political correctness," which chill free expression. And he's right: Student-inspired censorship has become a big problem lately. But the Notre Dame graduates' small act of polite defiance isn't an example of this. Protest doesn't become censorship unless the protesters prevent their target from speaking.