What’s on My Mind

My Right to Hear Speech by Joseph Charney

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I left South Pasadena and traveled 30 miles on Thursday to the Claremont Colleges to hear Heather MacDonald discuss her recent book, “The War On Cops.” Protestors blocked every entrance to the chosen venue.

Most of the signs and chants broadcast the message that the speaker was a “racist” and “anti-black”. There is not a shred of evidence sustaining those accusations against Ms. MacDonald, while her courage was manifest by her willingness to speak in defense of law enforcement.

The shutdown of invited campus speakers is a phenomenon occurring on many campuses including U.C. Berkeley and Middlebury College in Vermont. At Claremont, the “protesters” formed human chains, while angry professors and students were denied access to a facility on their own campus.

I’ve previously written about the failure to protect speech on campuses around the country. In this instance, I experienced the violation of my own rights. It is unclear how many involved with the disruption were students or outside agitators, but it is certain that they don’t understand or choose to understand what the First Amendment requires of them and of government.

Yes, they have a right to protest, but yes I, and many others, have a right to hear the speech. Both rights should and must be accommodated.   What happened on Thursday is known as a “heckler’s veto”, the prevention of speech with the threat of violence and disruption.

Potential violence can usually be deterred by appropriate planning, securing the venue enough to allow for the speech, while providing protesters a place to demonstrate. In this regard, the Claremont Administration was missing in action.   They were aware that Ms. MacDonald was going to be the target of organized protest. They were also aware of the disruption and violence that can occur by well organized outside groups using social media.

So what is to be done? If you believe, as I do, that the protection of one’s First Amendment Rights is as important as the right to vote, then the answer is obvious. If any individual or group chose to stand before my polling booth in South Pasadena with the intent to block me from casting a ballot is there any question that my right to vote should be protected?   Shouldn’t I expect our South Pasadena Police Department to intervene even to the point of using reasonable force with the power to arrest in order to insure that right?

Is not my right to hear arguments relating to the issues of the day as important as the vote? Shouldn’t reasonable lawful force be used to protect those rights as well? Such force, or the threat of force was needed on the Claremont campus. And while violence must always be the last resort, the unwillingness to apply lawful force in the protection of our rights and liberties is unacceptable.

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