The UW president is being assailed for standing up for the free-speech rights of some right-wingers. But she’s got it right — this would be a terrible time in our history to start backing down from the First Amendment.
Stay strong, Ana Mari Cauce.
When the UW president defended her decision to allow conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus recently after the scene outside ended in violence, she cited what seems like a rickety notion these days: free speech.
Her critics on the left weren’t having it.
“You are complicit in the violence,” reads one message to Cauce.
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“So much for your lecture about the First Amendment,” reads another. “Hundreds of us tried to warn you to cancel this talk. This blood is on your hands.”
“Collaborator,” charged another. “Appeaser.”
The issue is not dying away. On Monday, some faculty and staff submitted a letter to Cauce contending that talks such as Yiannopoulos’ and a campus rally in support of Donald Trump’s Mexican wall were both “hate speech.”
“Please join us in asking President Cauce to … designate (such) events as hate speech, ban them from the UW campus for the safety of students, and face the legal consequences,” the letter says.
I don’t want to get too hyperbolic, but I’m a newspaper columnist, so why not: There’s never been a time in my life when calling for the dilution of the First Amendment seems more dangerous, more self-destructive, than right now.
It’s true Yiannopoulos’ speech was offensive. A transcript of it features repeated use of the C-word and other juvenile insults about women, the disabled and, of course, the left.
It’s also true the UW did a poor job managing the event, allowing protesters to block the hall, which appeared to inflame the scene. Eventually a man was shot.
But Cauce was 100 percent right to let him speak. She was also 100 percent right not to block any pro-Trump, pro-wall rally (though the rally ended up not happening anyway).
Building the wall may be upsetting. But it’s also official U.S. policy now, so calling it “hate speech” would be truly round the bend for a public university.
Under Washington state law, the malicious harassment — or hate crime — statute provides protections for people attacked over race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or mental, physical or sensory handicap.
Here’s an explanation of what "bias crime" actually means.
As for Yiannopoulos, he does speak hatefully. But to qualify as hate-speech worthy of potential government intervention, it’s got to have a specific threat attached.
Lawyers call this the “fighting-words” test. This is why displaying a noose to a black person could be a prosecutable crime, while spewing racist opinions generally is not.
Based on his speech here, Yiannopoulos is a spewer. Cauce called it exactly right: He may be repulsive, she said, but he’s not the government’s business.
Personally, I haven’t met a government official yet whom I trust enough to decide what we get to see and hear. That some UW staff are arguing for exactly that — at this fraught moment in our history — is unsettling.
Donald Trump is proving he intends to follow through on every pledge he made during the campaign, no matter how crazed or unconstitutional.
He declared a free press the enemy and urged new libel laws to muzzle us. He called for people who burn a U.S. flag to have their citizenship revoked. You can bet that after the first two weekends of his term, he’s probably no fan of the right to peaceably assemble, either.
If ever, now is the time for people on campuses, and off, to be standing in full-throated defense of the First Amendment. Not whittling away at it.
It’s true, it’s no big deal for a white man like me to defend hateful speech, because I’m not its main target.
So take Cauce instead. Her brother, Cesar Cauce, was killed by the Ku Klux Klan at a protest demonstration in 1979, when she was 23. Think about that.
Here’s a Cuban immigrant whose brother died at the hands of right-wing nut-jobs, and she’s the one standing up for the free-speech rights of right-wing nut jobs. Now that’s spine. That’s dedication to founding principles. That’s America — at least as we imagine ourselves to be.
Of course, she’s the one being called an appeaser.
So stay strong, Ana Mari Cauce. And here’s hoping our flagship university starts following your lead, instead of shrinking at the challenge of the times.