A Berkeley 2017 protester. Conservatives see this and eat it for breakfast. Are moderates also dining on it for lunch?

Free Speech Is Not Being Protected by The Left and It’s Emboldening The Right

Bill Maher is Right. Howard Dean is Wrong. Seriously, this is Why Donald Trump Won. Please Stop.

Ann Coulter gets bumped from her scheduled Berkeley visit, which is potentially illegal. Former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean chimes in saying Coulter’s speech is hate speech and isn’t constitutionally protected, which is incorrect. And Coulter’s buddy and comedian Bill Maher, a.k.a. the liberal-who-liberals-love-to-hate, weighs in, too, saying, “I feel like this is the liberals’ version of book burning, and it’s got to stop.” He also points out how Berkeley used to be the bastion of free speech, and now it’s not. I agree.

Welcome to yet another exciting round in the free speech boxing match in North America 2017.

The ACLU fought for the right of the neo-Nazis to assemble in Skokie, Illinois in 1977. The left once fought for free speech when conservatives tried to stifle comedian Lenny Bruce. Now we have one of my favorite Democratic presidential candidates in recent years, Howard Dean, Tweeting “Hate Speech is not protected by the first amendment.” This nonsense only emboldens the right and alienates Americans who remember that, yes, we do in fact live in a country where we have the right to speak our minds and offend, not the right to threaten, and there’s a difference. This is a sea change and it scares me as someone who considers themselves liberal. It scares me when the left is moving towards absolutism of thought. As Maher might joke, Mao would be proud.

Today, this NBC News Headline gets to the point of the matter: “How Berkeley Became a New Battleground For Free Speech.”

If the recent protests erupting before and after Trump’s election on college campuses and communities across the United States indicates anything — where often the denial of an individual’s speech is the goal— it’s that there will be continued contrarian backlashes like Trump’s 2016 electoral win. When liberal professors at Middlebury Vermont are seriously injured by leftists protesters, we’ve reached a crisis point. It’s getting to feel as if one hears of protests such as these almost weekly. (Update: Indeed, it happened in my hometown days after writing this post after radical left-wing threats shut down a “family-friendly parade meant to attract crowds to its diverse neighborhood,” The Oregonian reported. Which ProPublica investigative story or academic journal is following these trends or polling public sentiment about them?)

Yes, I believe that “political correctness” is partially responsible for the rise of Trump, as I wrote post-election but was too cowed and tired to publish. In short, protesting free speech helps Trump. And narrowing “hate speech” as anything one deems slightly offensive and stating it’s not protected by the constitution is the slippery slope on the left that will hurt in the battle place of ideas — science is proving that — and at the polls. Being radical may feel good, but it doesn’t change minds, according to a 2017 Princeton Study published February 2017 which showed how violent extremes of the 1960s protest movement alienated swing voters and tipped 1968’s election in Nixon’s favor. History repeated itself in 2016. And if I’m truly honest: There’s far less at stake because the tide of progress on issues of gender, sexuality and race, while far from perfect, has drifted more permanently into public consciousness in the past four decades of my lifetime. Why else would Martin Luther King be quoted by conservatives so often if it weren’t for the fact that so many on the far left pushed the goal line of progress into La La Land territory? Conservatives are even suggesting the need for federal civil rights intervention, like what happened in the American South in the 1960s, when arguing Berkeley is infringing on constitutionally protected speech. The college Republicans who invited Coulter are today threatening to sue.

This is partially why I think Trump won with the slimmest of margins. Which side represented the freedom of speaking your mind, even if horribly wrong? Which side represents constitutionally protected free speech? The left proved in 2016 and continues today to say: We want to limit what you say and where you say it, not argue the merits of your points. Evidence of that approach being counter-productive dawned on me in a pre-Florida primary poll showing twice as many Republicans said it made them more likely (22%) rather than less likely (11%) to support Trump in direct response to in-your-face protests inside the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Pavilion shut down Trump’s Chicago rally. Basically, radical protests seeking to silence speech provide “ammunition” to convert would-be Trump supporters.

I can’t believe my political hero Howard Dean and so many others are flipping on their bellies on this issue of free speech. Berkeley, once a bastion of freedom, is turning into a bastion of opposition and just-plain-batshit-crazy. The former I can be down with, but the latter I can’t abide. And that includes forcing the cancellations of controversial conservatives such as Milo Yiannopoulos in February and Ann Coulter this month. After $100,000 of damage was caused by bandanna-wearing protesters leading to the cancellation of Yiannopoulos’ speech, The New York Times wrote about how Berkeley is the battleground for this issue, with one student saying, “I’m tired of getting silenced, as many conservative students are. If we support freedom of speech, we should support all speech including what they consider hate speech.”

A personal aside: When I was there in Berkeley, California, in Christmas 2015, I saw sidewalk chalk-written political statements stretching over several blocks saying how Hillary was a war criminal in about two dozen different ways. I thought, “Ah, Berkeley: Where an OCD peacenik hippie can throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater around this single issue.” (I’ve argued many times it’s proven she votes more liberally than 70% of Senators; and her 2003 Iraq War Resolution vote was also backed by more than three-quarters of the Senate.) Many of these chalk-scribbled arguments I would continue to see from the left and #NeverHillary crowd — all the way until she barely lost those electoral votes in November. It’s not just a potentially unhinged person in Berkeley, it’s a mindset that’s taken root in far too many. I blame the rise of social media, which leads to group think. I also blame the lack of critical thinking.

Picture and excerpt from Politico (no, they’re not dating): He still mixes it up with eclectic panels of guests, many of who can be as abrasive as he is, such as the conservative agitator Ann Coulter, a longtime friend. “I know the liberals hate it, and I don’t care,” he says. “First of all, I’ve known her that long. There’s something about an old friendship. You just have history with somebody. Not romantic history. No. I would never date a Republican. I never have. I wouldn’t. Nor would she be interested in dating me. But she is a fun person if you just don’t get political when you talk. When you know somebody that long, you just know where not to go. And she’s a fun New Yorker type of person. And people like her. They expect to hate her.”

Bill Maher is another liberal critic whose mindset is geared towards defending outrageous speech and not yielding to orthodoxy, and I’ve heard from many friends that they outright despise him. Why? Because after being critical of Christianity for years, he also decided to be critical of Islam? Because he actually speaks his mind, even while defending liberal principles? His is the clearest case study of how “coloring outside the lines” of non-offensiveness makes enemies. At least he’s found success on HBO, thus proving there is an audience for free-thinking.

At any rate, when Maher says that Howard Dean is wrong here, he’s got the facts on his side:

“Berkeley, you know, used to be the cradle of free speech,” Maher said to CNN’s S.E. Cupp. “And now it’s just the cradle for f — king babies.”

“I feel like this is the liberals’ version of book burning, and it’s got to stop,” Maher said before taking aim at former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean for his tweet stating hate speech isn’t protected by the First Amendment.

“Yes it is!” Maher insisted.

“Threats are not protected by the First Amendment,” the host added.

“It doesn’t mean ‘just shut up and agree with me.’”

I even wondered if the ACLU today would defend the Klan today. I was incorrect in my assumption that they would not. They are, in fact, defending their free speech rights in Georgia today:

“Our position on this case, and First Amendment rights in general,” explains Kathleen Burch, Interim In-House Counsel for ACLU Georgia, in a telephone interview with The Christian Science Monitor, “is we often see infringement of rights being against those on the fringes of society, and if we don’t protect them, we can’t protect anyone.”

In June 2012, Georgia’s Department of Transportation denied the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan’s application to be part of the highway scheme, citing its potentially distracting effect on drivers, and the department’s unwillingness to promote an organization “with a history of inciting civil disturbance and social unrest.”

In their statement announcing the lawsuit on the KKK’s behalf, the ACLU admitted that many find the group’s views “abhorrent.” But as Debbie Seagraves of ACLU Georgia told the Guardian in 2012, “even if it is difficult for me to say we are considering representing the KKK, if we let that First Amendment protection be eroded, all of us will suffer for it.”

And in 2012 in The Guardian, the clearest argument for constitutionally protected speech was made in this same Georgia case:

In other words, if we go by what is offensive to someone, the right to free expression means merely the right to say something until someone is upset by it. Which isn’t a “right” at all.

In the end, guess who’s right? It’s not Howard Dean, who’s button is pinned to the wall in my closet. It’s Bill Maher, who I should really be getting a ticket to see in Chicago next week.

Sometimes hate speech is also a threat or “fighting words.” In those cases, hate speech would be excluded from protections offered by the First Amendment, said James Weinstein, an expert in free speech at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor Law School, in a past PolitiFact interview.

For example, it would be unconstitutional to ban someone from putting a racial epithet on a sign at a protest. But if someone used the same racial epithet while credibly saying they plan to harm someone of that race, that might count as a threat and therefore lose its First Amendment protection. But the speech loses the protection because it’s a threat, not because it’s hate speech.

Our ruling

Dean said, “Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment.”

There are some exceptions to the free speech clause in the First Amendment, but “hate speech” is not one of them. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held up the right of an individual or group to engage in speech that much of the public likely finds offensive, like displaying swastikas, burning crosses or protesting a soldier’s funeral.

We rate Dean’s claim False.

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Writer. Researcher. Designer. Human seeking better outcomes. Also searching for relevant facts and logical arguments above expedient or politial narratives.

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David Shuey

David Shuey

Writer. Researcher. Designer. Human seeking better outcomes. Also searching for relevant facts and logical arguments above expedient or politial narratives.

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