Michigan State University is being sued after it refused to rent space on campus for white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak later this month. The rental was requested by Georgia State University student Cameron Padgett for an event on-campus at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center.
Michigan officials issued a statement the decision was “due to significant concerns about public safety” after the “tragic violence” in Charlottesville, Virginia. I have previously written about how “public safety” is now being use as a catch-all rationalization to bar some speakers (generally conservative speakers) based on the content of their speech. By citing counterprotesters, universities hope to avoid the appearance of content based discrimination but obviously it is the content that is driving the decision. A university simply has to cite the anger of others in barring particular speakers;
Once again, this is the triumph of the “heckler’s veto” where people are denied the ability to speak based on how others will react to their views. In Ohio, a bill will be introduced to bar university officials from disinviting speakers based on the fear of counterprotesters. It should not take a law for universities to maintain protections for free speech on our campuses. We are yielding to the mob in the form of violent groups like Antifa.
I do not know anything about Spencer beyond his reputation as a white nationalist. It does not matter. If Michigan State University is allowing speakers to rent space, it should do so in a content neutral fashion.
What do you think?