The University of Washington taught an important lesson on Friday when it allowed provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus: No matter how much we disagree, we must protect the freedom of all to speak and not be silenced by a threatening mob.
THE University of Washington deserves praise for ensuring that a controversial speaker could be heard, despite aggressive efforts to suppress his speech.
Friday’s speech by conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was marred by violent protests and a shooting. But the speech continued at UW’s Kane Hall.
Yiannopoulos’ racism and misogyny are repugnant, but he is free to share his political views. No matter how much we disagree, we must protect the freedom of all to speak and not be silenced or attacked by mobs on the right or the left.
President Obama said it well in a 2012 speech to the United Nations, defending the decision not to censor an anti-Muslim video despite violent protests in the Middle East:
“Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with,” he said.
“We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.”
Even blasphemy and hate speech are protected in order to preserve our essential freedom. This can be difficult, but it’s been key to helping America prevent tyranny and evolve.
Protesters of Yiannopoulos also had a right to assemble and state their opposition to his views. But the message and concerns about equality and fairness were lost when the protest became a mob restricting access to the speech, and began throwing bricks and paint. Amid the tumult, one person shot another, allegedly in self-defense. Guns are banned on campus.
In contrast to Saturday’s rousing women’s demonstrations in Seattle and elsewhere, Friday night’s gathering at the UW devolved into a brutal demonstration of intolerance.
The lesson is that no matter how challenging, it’s always important to defend our essential First Amendment rights of free speech and peaceable assembly.
By ensuring that Friday’s speech continued — despite intense political pressure to censor Yiannopoulos and the volatile and dangerous conditions — the UW taught this lesson well.