colleges

Sen. Feinstein: Protecting College Free Speech from Violent Protests Is Too Much of a Burden

Also, she thinks the Kent State shootings are an argument for censorship.

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Sen. Feinstein
Michael Reynolds/EPA/Newscom

Gosh, protecting controversial free speech from violent protests is expensive. Wouldn't it be easier for colleges to just not let any of that stuff happen? Who wants another Kent State?

That is, with no exaggeration, the attitude expressed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at a Senate hearing this week on free speech on college campuses.

The hearing came just a day after the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the First Amendment is so important to American culture that the federal government cannot simply reject trademarks on the basis of offensiveness. Feinstein, by contrast, expressed bafflement at the argument that universities shouldn't succumb to the heckler's veto and to the idea that publicly funded colleges should have to host invited speakers "no matter how radical, offensive, biased, prejudiced, fascist the program is."

There's a reason Feinstein appears on Reason's list of "enemies of freedom."

Ultimately, Feinstein's objection to protecting controversial speech is that of the bureaucrat disguised as the concerned nanny. When people intent on violence show up at protests, other people can get hurt. But colleges have limited resources, she argues—so why should campus police be expected to be able handle protests if they get seriously out of hand?

"You don't think we learned a lesson from Kent State way back when?" she asked at one point, a fascinating reply that illustrates so much about her mind-set. Feinstein's argument seems to be that the killing of four college students by members of the National Guard would have been prevented if the government hadn't allowed the protests in the first place.

Fortunately, lovers of liberty were well-represented on the panel by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who patiently explained that, yes, publicly funded colleges are expected to make sure the civil liberties of the students on their campus are protected appropriately by law enforcement. "One important job of the government is to prevent violence, and to prevent violence without suppressing free speech," he said in response.

There is an odd mind-set out there—one not confined to any particular ideology—that thinks it's some sort of distraction for law enforcement officials to spend their time protecting protesters from violence or standing along parade routes to make sure people come to no harm. These people have their priorities backwards. Protecting people who are expressing their First Amendment rights is what the police are for. The distractions are arresting people for drugs and citing people for not wearing seatbelts.

Similarly, people like Feinstein complain about the costs of protecting liberty as though colleges haven't been undergoing a dramatic increase in administrative bloat. The answer isn't more money from the government. The answer is better spending priorities.

Over at Hot Air, John Sexton says he's surprised to see Feinstein support submission to the heckler's veto. He shouldn't be. Feinstein is actively pro-censorship toward anything she perceives as potentially contributing to violence, including imaginary guns in video games.

Ken "Popehat" White, who recently wrote an excellent explainer for the Los Angeles Times detailing how and why "hate speech" is protected speech, took note of the Supreme Court decisions this week and the overall trend of judicial decisions that bolster the First Amendment. But he also worries what it means for the future if we culturally abandon free speech values:

The Supreme Court is upholding the black letter of liberty, but are Americans upholding its spirit? When college students, encouraged by professors and administrators, believe that they have a right to be free of offense, no. When Americans hunger to "open up" libel laws or jail flag burners, no. When our attitude towards the hecker's veto becomes "let's do it to them because they did it to us," no. Not only is speech practically impaired, but in the long term the cultural norms necessary to sustain good Supreme Court precedent are eroded.

After giving White space to explain why hate speech is legally protected, the Los Angeles Times gave the sociologist and legal scholar Laura Beth Nielsen an opportunity to argue that hate speech should be restricted. The crux of her argument is that hateful speech disproportionately affects the disenfranchised and causes actual measurable harms.

Here is what is especially wrongheaded about Nielsen's op-ed: She repeatedly notes how government's speech restrictions have historically protected the powerful and influential. Yet she somehow does not realize that this is an argument against granting the government the authority to define and restrain hate speech.

So she complains that Congress passed a law to prevent the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting military funerals but never did anything to stop the church from protesting the funerals of people who died of AIDS. She denounces anti-panhandling laws, saying they were enacted to protect the interests of businesses that don't want them around. (She doesn't mention that the courts do in fact frequently strike these laws down as unconstitutional.) It's true: The government is more likely to restrict speech on your behalf if you have more political influence. If the government adds "hate speech" to its rationales for cracking down, do you really think the outcome will be any different?

Neilsen simply doesn't seem aware of how her rationales for restricting speech could be deployed in ways she wouldn't like. As if to underline the point, she pulls out the old "fire in a crowded theater" trope as an example that free speech is not absolute without mentioning that the quote comes from a case where a man was arrested and convicted of violating the Espionage Act for distributing a pamphlet opposing the draft.

So, to sum up: Feinstein sees government forces shooting student protesters and concludes that colleges should restrict free speech in order to prevent violence. And Nielsen thinks censorship laws that unfairly harm or exclude the disenfranchised are arguments in favor of giving the government more power to censor speech.

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  1. Feinstein is such a complete monster.

    1. Not to mention that she appears to have a room temperature IQ …. and the room is air conditioned.

    2. She holds the standard position of your average Democratic legislature. I’m not sure what is surprising that she supports banning speech that hurts feelings

      1. “She holds the standard position of your average Democratic legislature.”

        She gets a lot of exposure in the local (SF) media. I’d say she’s an alpha female, unfortunately lacking in the brain-power to be half-way good at it.

    3. Feinstein is why I can’t take the progressives seriously. How they can claim to be for social justice and civil rights, yet keep electing her to the senate is beyond my comprehension. Feinstein doesn’t even pretend to be liberal anymore, let alone progressive.

      1. she held Harvey Milk’s bullet riddled body in her warm caress so she got a lifetime pass to elected office. Seriously, she hasn’t lost an election since.

        1. ^ This.

          Diane Feinstein is one of the earliest figures who started turning young me away from the left back in the early 90s.

      2. How can they make that claim? Because they have, for a long time, controled the terms of the debate. That’s breaking up (and has been for a while) but it’s still mostly in place and they count on it.

        That’s one reason why they HAVE to go after Trump. His election shows that the media not only is partisan, but doesn’t kniw what the hell it’s talking about. They MUST distract the voters from that. The next few election cycles are going to be real interesting.

  2. If only there were some sort of institution that could educate these college students on the merits of a free and open exchange of ideas and opinions.

  3. Isn’t that wretched woman gone yet?

    1. wretched woman

      That’s Senator Wretched Woman to you!

  4. Gosh, protecting controversial free speech from violent protests is expensive.

    Not really. Just have Dianne show up packing her heat.

  5. I only need to speak one word for her.

    I starts with a C.

  6. If the Hobby Protesters who disrupted a speaker, or invaded a scheduled event with intent to spoil it, were regularly arrested for trespass and (should they be students) expelled, the heckler’s veto would be a lot rarer. If faculty members who lent their names to such idiocy stood to lose their positions, then either they would back off or a lot of very foolish academic programs would close. Which brings it back to the institutions of academia; they don’t want Conservative, or Libertarian, or even simply un-vetted voices on campus. And the segments of society that tolerate this state of affairs should stop. Alumni organizations keep up the donations regardless of how the actual alumni feel about current policy. That’s idiotic. State Legislatures keep funding universities that routinely flout basic common law. That’s absurd. And corporations continue to use graduation from colleges that fail to teach as a filter for hiring.

    The whole shebang is due for a major shaking-up. I think we can see efforts to stave that off in the attacks on for-profit colleges (sure such places rip off their students. Harvard does not? it’s a distraction) and the bushwa about ‘free’ college.

    Somebody needs to give academia an enema, because it is full of dung.

    1. they don’t want Conservative, or Libertarian, or even simply un-vetted voices on campus.

      The don’t want Liberal of Progressive voices either. The only tolerate complete conformity to the SJWism of the moment. That some SJW issues manage to overlap some Progressive issues is purely coincidental, and temporary.

  7. A school choosing not to pay a person and provide a venue, security, and advertisements for them to speak is not them censoring that person.

    Confusing to obfuscate not being paid to do something with being prohibited from doing something is a mistake.

    1. *”Choosing to obfuscate”

    2. A PUBLIC school choosing not to provide a venue for an invited speaker is government censorship. Go commie somewhere else

    3. A school choosing not to pay a person and provide a venue, security, and advertisements for them to speak is not them censoring that person.

      But a school doing it only to people who don’t agree with them would run afoul. Hell, many schools make conservative groups pay for “extra security” (who do jack shit — Milo has had to have extra security paid for at events and the stage was STILL rushed and they didn’t do anything) that they do not force Progressive groups to do.

      It’s simply time for all conservative groups to go hog wild and disrupt all events they don’t like. The college set the rules. It is time to play by them.

      1. So, the rules say you have to act like an immature asshole now? I’m not sure that is going to lead to very desirable results.

        1. I agree with you that it is acting like an immature asshole. But, here’s the problem, one side being given license to act like immature assholes while the other is bound by the rules of decorum isn’t getting rid of immature assholery. It’s simply unilateral disarmament. And the practical effect is to encourage the side engaged in the assholery to continue its use as a tactic.

          The Great Powers didn’t stop using mustard gas because of any sense of decency or generosity. They did it because it was demonstrated to them that they’d be responded to in kind.

          1. Thinking about it more, I think it might not be a bad tactic to take in the limited context of college campuses. That’s a good place to make symbolic points and try to get the administrations to expose their hypocrisy.

            But if the right adopts similar tactics more broadly, I don’t think any good will come of it. Just deeper entrenchment of the assholes on both sides, precluding anything remotely reasonable from happening.

            1. Zeb is right. Why make everyone think that all sides are intolerant? It may not seem like it, but free speech advocates are winning, particularly in the courts- where it matters

              1. Yes, I believe (and fervently hope) that things have not reached the level where fighting it out in the streets is the only option. That almost never leads to a good outcome.

                And I think you are right that free speech fares pretty well in the legal arena where it matters most. It’s something people need to be vigilant about. But so far, free speech remains mostly intact in this country. Not perfect, but much better than anywhere else.

        2. Zeb, how had being “mature” helped?

          Seems the Left is getting exactly what they want with no repurcussions.

          You cannot change anything if only one side is forced to abide by the rules.

      2. It’s simply time for all conservative groups to go hog wild and disrupt all events they don’t like. The college set the rules. It is time to play by them.

        A wholly counterproductive idea which only a moron would endorse.

        1. Disagree, obviously.

          The Progs have been given YEARS to stop doing this.

          They will not.

          So, it is time to force the issue.

    4. A school that, having approved a speaker, withdraws approval because a small segment of self-righteous twits threatens to behave badly if the speaker is allowed on campus is, minimally, facilitating censorship. Such a school is also making explicit that any blather it has fronted in the past about freedom of expression, free inquiry, academic freedom, etc is so much piddle and wind.

      Liberal Academia should be forced, not to allow Conservative (or Fascist or whatever) voices on campus, but to admit that the reason that they will not allow such voices on campus is that they are institutions of an orthodoxy. The Universities of 18th century England would not admit students that would not accept the religious tenets of the Church of England. We widely regard that as despicable. The Universities of the United States in the 21st century are similarly attempting to limit their campuses to those who will accept the tenets of the Progressive religion. They should be forced to admit this and ridiculed at least as much as the Bob Jones Universities of the world.

    5. Spouting that same “pay” bullshit again. Restricting access to the campus sure as hell is censorship. Requiring compensation to provide protection sure as hell is censorship.

    6. Why do I have to pay dilshit leftists to give speeches on campus?

      When you get the state out of education you might finally actually have a point, which would be a big first for you.

  8. Is it possible she’s getting stupider?

    1. She apparently still remember to breathe, so probably not.

      1. She apparently still remember to breathe, so probably not.

        It’s progressivism. Respiration is achieved through abject and unyielding forward motion. At least, ‘obligate ram ventilation’ sounds like an apt description to me.

  9. I bet she is ecstatic that, when her supporters were agitating for change. it wasn’t too difficult to protect free speech then.

    Apparently, conservatives just needed to crack skulls more.

  10. She denounces anti-panhandling laws, saying they were enacted to protect the interests of businesses that don’t want them around.

    1. Damn this site.

      The people who the panhandlers keep annoying while the police don’t do shit — they don’t matter.

      These people make these idiotic statements because they live in cloistered little bubbles where nobody with a skin tone darker than snow live (sure, some darker-hued folks can be their nannies et al, but live there? Come on!) and all of their asinine ideas never hurt them.

      ICE should just place all immigrants they detain in Beverly Hills.

      1. “ICE should just place all immigrants they detain in Beverly Hills”

        That’s a hell of an idea. Load up a truck full of deep brown people and go door-to-door in Beverly Hills – with a news camera present – asking homeowners if they’ll take a refugee of three.

        Hee!

        I can hear the heads exploding.

        1. Why ask? They don’t *need* all that extra space. Just take it and give it to someone who needs it.
          Isn’t that the argument about taxes?

          1. 400 square feet per person, not counting the communal kitchen. Pack ’em in.

          2. Why ask? Because asking on camera puts them in the position of having to either volunteer or live with the strong possibility that they next time they shoot off their mouths about their Liberal immigration positions, they’ll get exposed as stupid hypocrites. It’s a twofer!

  11. “Fortunately, lovers of liberty were well-represented on the panel by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who patiently explained that, yes, publicly funded colleges are expected to make sure the civil liberties of the students on their campus are protected appropriately by law enforcement. “One important job of the government is to prevent violence, and to prevent violence without suppressing free speech,” he said in response.”

    The government does not grant rights; it is the government’s job to PROTECT the rights of the population

    1. And somehow that is a job that always comes AFTER making sure that Congress and assorted government stooges and parasites get paid.

  12. Neilsen simply doesn’t seem aware of how her rationales for restricting speech could be deployed in ways she wouldn’t like.

    I think she’s aware. In other words, totalitarianism is okay with her so long as she gets to wear the jackboots.

  13. Of the 45 enemies of freedom linked in the article above, only 10% are in Congress. I expected more.
    Nominate your own half-wit to make that math work.

  14. At Kent State, those shot were the liberals protesting the government’s policy of providing free trips to southeast Asia, round trip optional.
    So does dear Diane really mean she only wants protection for the right wing conservatives?
    Or has the dementia gotten out of hand?

    1. Kent State is a pet peeve of mine. The “protesters” had done a million dollars (1970’s dollars) worth of damage to the town. They had also, just before the Guard was called in, set fire to the ROTC building, and then interfered with firefighters on the scene.

      At that point, the “Protest” had to be shut down. Doubtles the imbecile who set the fire only thought of it in terms of symbolism, but a building sized fire is not really under anyone’s control. The fire was an escalation to the level of potentially lethal force. I suspect, but cannot know, that whoever called for the Guard hoped the “Protesters” would recognize that things had changed. They didn’t. Only an idiot would throw rocks at a military unit. Sadly, there were a lot of idiots present.

      Somehow when people wring their hands over Kent State they don’t talk about the damagemto the town, or the fire. And nobody mentions that if the Sate Police had been sent in instead the death toll might have been a lot higher. The Ohio State Cops of that era were blue-collar types who had scant patience with the tantrums of the children of those,wealthy enough to go to college. They might well have waded in with nightstick, and busted heads left and right.

      Kent State was a tragedy, but it was one brought on by unthinking idiocy on the part of the rioters.

  15. When these riotous and shutdown tactics are used, they only make said speaker and message more provocative.

    Protest is fine, but requires patience, which is obviously in short supply. Counter arguments are much more effective, also in short supply.

    The bright side to all of this is that it’s driving a younger generation in the opposite direction of these apoplectic activists.

    1. You don’t look at polling data much, do you?

      1. After the marked failure of the plling orgs in the last election, why would I take them seriously?

        1. Another interesting point; there is now evidence and study showing that several million illegal immigrants voted in the 2012 election. Assuming that that wasn’t stopped in 2016, where does that leave the “Hillary won the popular vote” argument?

  16. The real problem is the left are the ones who show up and threaten violence. They are the ones who believe in free speech as long as they are the only ones allowed to speak. It appalls me that a Senator who swore to uphold and defend the Constitution would take such a position. However, like all progressives, she is more committed to the creation of the a statist government which is exactly what the Constitution was written to protect us from coming into existence.

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