Muzzling Free Speech at Berkeley Law School

It is not uncommon in universities for certain unapproved speeches to be suppressed because they do not conform to dominant ideologies. As part of what has come to be known as “cancel culture,” the purging of thought and ideas that conflict with liberal notions or the radical delusions of social justice warriors, this unfortunate trend has also manifested itself in law schools, where lawyers-in-training have had no qualms about trying to limit the speech of others with whom they disagree.

In March, for example, student activists at UC Hastings School of Law vigorously interrupted the appearance of conservative jurist Ilya Shapiro at an event organized by the Federalist Society. Shapiro, new executive director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution, as will be remembered, experienced collective anger and opprobrium from his own school when he tweeted comments criticizing Joe Biden’s pledge to appoint a black woman as the new Supreme Court justice.

When Shapiro arrived to speak, student activists associated with the Hastings BLSA had already planned to express their displeasure with Shapiro’s views by ending the event and using the “heckler’s veto” for the silenced for his ideological transgressions. Throughout the 53-minute event, protesting students in the classroom blocked the podium as Shapiro tried to speak and shouted “Black lawyers matter” while pounding desks and drowning out any speech.

At Yale Law School, some 120 students severely disrupted another March event in which Kristen Waggoner, senior lawyer for the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) party, sat on a panel to discuss (ironically, he proves) problems of freedom of expression. Once it had been predetermined that the organization Wagoner is the lead advocate for was anti-gay, it didn’t matter what she said at the event. The Yale Law School Moral Rebukes had already decided that she should be canceled and banned from speaking her mind on anything and they loudly and aggressively closed her speech.

The latest example of this unfortunate trend has taken place at Berkeley Law School, where a group of student activists, Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP), have launched a campaign to convince others of the 100 student organizations to school to adopt an anti-Israeli policy. the band had pre-written.

“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 post. “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 pledge support for the ongoing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, the regulations also included highly troubling language that seeks to erase any speech that might be seen as pro-Israel or pro-Zionist. , even a speech intended to correct the many factual and historical inaccuracies of the pro-Palestinian narrative inherent in this insidious settlement.

“[I]In the interest of protecting the safety and well-being of Palestinian students on campus,” the suggested wording reads, groups adopting this policy “will not invite speakers who have expressed and continue to hold opinions or who organize/sponsor/promote events in support of Zionism, the apartheid State of Israel and the occupation of Palestine. [Emphasis added]

And in language that is Orwellian in its attempt to portray bigotry as a virtue, cooperative student groups, according to the regulations, will proclaim that they “publicly state the organization’s position on anti-racism and anti-colonialism. -colonists to speakers, ensuring that speakers’ proposals underline the organization’s desire for equality and inclusion”, all with the aim, of course, of creating “a safe and inclusive space for Palestinian students and students who support the liberation of Palestine. . . .”

In a letter LSJP posted on Instagram defending its actions after law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky mildly criticized the settlement, the group even dishonestly suggested, in a nod to Herbert Marcuse , that freedom of expression should only be enjoyed by the oppressed, the “marginalized” like them. Anyone who supports the racist apartheid regime of Israel should not have access to the same expression, and it is perfectly reasonable, according to the group, that pro-Israel dialogue should be excluded. “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, of course, but is vaguely fascist. by deliberately or negligently relinquishing the power of a few to decide what may be said, what may be said, and what must be suppressed; it’s what former Yale University president Bartlett Giamatti called the “tyranny of group complacency.”

And in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian debate, which excludes any speech that defends Israel and responds to the lies, distortions and slanders apparent in the language of the LSJP rules, the suppression of pro-Israel speech is even more serious. . Pro-Palestinian activists would rather their rancid ideology never be questioned, of course, especially since much of their anti-Israel discourse is based on oft-repeated but counterfactual references to “the occupation of Palestine”, to Israeli “apartheid”. “, “colonialism”, “genocide” and oppression of an Arab people at the hands of Jews with no prior connection to the Holy Land who appropriated the territory of an indigenous population and replaced it with a state Jewish.

The LSJP and other anti-Israel groups spout these phrases recklessly and frequently, but that doesn’t make them true, and if supporters of Israel and Zionism on the Berkeley Law campus are unable to come to the defense of the Jewish state, as this insidious settlement is designed to perform, then the lies about Israel will continue unchallenged.

Any group that claims that an imaginary nation called Palestine is occupied – which means, of course, that Israel itself occupies a bogus sovereignty once ruled by Palestinians – is clearly ignoring history and the fact that it is This is one of the LSJP’s main charges against Israel. is another reason why, for the sole reason that they lie about Israel’s history, they should make it clear why their sectarian rule is both wrong and violates academic freedom of expression.

The groups of Berkeley students who adopted this regulation revealed a stunning display of pretentiousness and audacity, students who took it upon themselves to decide which ideas can be heard and which can and should be suppressed – all in the name of , ostensibly, to protect the sensitivities and “safety” of Palestinians on campus while completely ignoring the feelings of Jewish students and other supporters of Israel. This is a dangerous notion, and one that contradicts at least the purported goal of universities, which is the unimpeded exchange of many viewpoints in the “marketplace of ideas”.

Their ideology assumes, wrongly, that some ideas are morally superior to others and that only these deserve to be expressed; that these few law students have the knowledge and insight — in all areas of research — to be able to assess the value of a lecturer’s intellectual contributions; and that students should be able to control and even “cancel” speakers chosen to visit campus, especially speakers who might challenge the toxic anti-Israel activism so prevalent on campuses.

When and if they become lawyers, these law students will have to hear conflicting arguments in a case, convince a judge and jury of their interpretation of an argument, and successfully plead for their client based on reason, facts , legal precedent and intellect. aptitude.

As future lawyers, they will not be able to shut down and suppress the speech of others in the courtroom, including opposing counsel and a judge. They will not be able to present only their side of a case without the other side presenting theirs.

And the university is a place where the same decorum and the same procedures for promoting points of view, developing intellectual arguments, providing facts and research to support one’s opinions, and inspiring academic research and scholarly debate are fundamental to the advancement of learning.

This is precisely why universities exist and why any attempt to suppress certain discourses – because they are currently out of favor or because they are new or even controversial – is contrary to what the university stands for and why, whether in a law class or in a courtroom, unfettered freedom of speech is paramount, as Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, even “for the thought we hate.”

Nancy I. Romero