University of Pittsburgh Students Disrupt Pro-Life Conference

We have been discussing how faculty and students are increasingly shutting down speakers or destroying opposing memorialsin the name of free speech. The latest such example is at University of Pittsburgh where abortion activists disrupted a conference on fetal tissue research held by a pro-life group. The university is investigating but apparently no students were stopped or identified at the event by campus security despite their forcing the suspension of the event.

Videos from the November 8 event show 15 to 20 individuals taking over the stage to stop the presentation with banners and loud chanting. They refused to let the event continue as they continued to chant “Working women give them Hell, it is right to rebel!”, “We demand justice!”, and “Abortion is healthcare!” The protesters tore up the speaker’s notes and event programs and ripped the microphone out of the presenter’s hands after she asked them to leave.

Some of the students (like the one who took over the microphone) are clearly shown without masks so it would seem relatively simple to identify some of the organizers.

The university rules state conditions that appear to have been violated:

Students or student groups who engage in an on-campus demonstration must refrain from disrupting the educational process and from infringing upon the rights of other members of the University community…

3. No demonstration shall impede pedestrian and/or vehicular traffic.

4. No demonstration shall block or otherwise interfere with any person’s ability to enter or exit any University property (buildings/patios/plaza/gathering spaces, etc.).

5. No demonstration shall obstruct or disrupt activity related to the University’s educational process, including, but not limited to, activity occurring in classrooms, offices, laboratories or other University facilities or grounds, except as may be permitted under the Event Scheduling Guidelines, which outlines appropriate means to demonstrate during a sponsored event.

…7. Use of sound/voice amplifiers is prohibited inside University owned or operated facilities. Use of sound/voice amplifiers is also prohibited if it disrupts activity related to the University’s educational process.

8. Demonstrators shall not engage in any behavior or activity that causes or threatens to cause physical injury to another person.

We have previously discussed the worrisome signs of a rising generation of censors in the country as leaders and writers embrace censorship and blacklisting. The latest chilling poll was released by 2021 College Free Speech Rankings after questioning a huge body of 37,000 students at 159 top-ranked U.S. colleges and universities. It found that sixty-six percent of college students think shouting down a speaker to stop them from speaking is a legitimate form of free speech.  Another 23 percent believe violence can be used to cancel a speech. That is roughly one out of four supporting violence.

The issue is not engaging in protest against such speakers, but to enter events for the purpose of preventing others from hearing such speakers. Universities create forums for the discussion of a diversity of opinions. Entering a classroom or event to prevent others from speaking is barring free speech. I would feel the same way about preventing such people from protests outside such events. However, the concern is not with outdoor events where all groups can be as loud and cantankerous as their voices will bear. Both sides have free speech rights to express. The issue on campus is the entrance into halls, or classrooms to prevent others from hearing speakers or opposing viewpoints by disputing events.

This has been an issue of contention with some academics who believe that free speech includes the right to silence others.  Berkeley has been the focus of much concern over the use of a heckler’s veto on our campuses as violent protesters have succeeded in silencing speakers, even including a few speakers like an ACLU official.  Both students and some faculty have maintained the position that they have a right to silence those with whom they disagree and even student newspapers have declared opposing speech to be outside of the protections of free speech.  At another University of California campus, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display.  In the meantime, academics and deans have said that there is no free speech protection for offensive or “disingenuous” speech.  CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek showed how far this trend has gone. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech,”  Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. (Bilek later cancelled herself and resigned after she made a single analogy to acting like a “slaveholder” as a self-criticism for failing to achieve equity and reparations for black faculty and students). We also  previously discussed the case of Fresno State University Public Health Professor Dr. Gregory Thatcher who recruited students to destroy pro-life messages written on the sidewalks and wrongly told the pro-life students that they had no free speech rights in the matter.

Absent enforcement of school rules on such disruptions, there is little hope for the open exchange of ideas and a diversity of opinions on campus. It can unleash a type of tit-for-tat pattern of retaliation as speakers are prevented from speaking on controversial subjects. Our campuses then become little more than screaming matches. The rules of most schools properly draw the line between protests and disruptions. Everyone is allowed to be heard. However, if you enter to disrupt it, you are disrupting free speech.

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