In one of the most reckless and chilling attacks on free speech, the former chair of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Berkeley lecturer Ann Ravel is pushing for a federal crackdown on “disinformation” on the Internet — a term that she conspicuously fails to concretely define. Ravel is pushing a proposal that she laid out in a a paper co-author with Abby K. Wood, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, and Irina Dykhne, a student at USC Gould School of Law. To combat “fake news,” Ravel and her co-authors would undermine the use of the Internet as a forum for free speech. The regulation would include the targeting of people who share stories deemed fake or disinformation by government regulators. The irony is that such figures are decrying Russian interference with our system and responding by curtailing free speech — something Vladimir Putin would certainly applaud.
Many of us have been warning for years about the anti-free speech activities of various protest groups in barring speakers and even taking over classrooms. I have long advocated suspending students who prevent others from speaking or attending such events and expelling those who are repeat offenders. Now the University of Wisconsin system has adopted such an approach, though some of the terminology is problematic in my view. Nevertheless, while the policy (found here) could be more specific in defining terms like “disrupt,” it is a move that could go a long way in restoring free speech protections.
University of Oregon President Michael Schill probably thought that he would be the least likely university president to find himself silenced by the raising anti-speech protests by students. After all, Schill himself has been denounced as part of the anti-free speech trend after he supported the university’s punishment of a law professor for wearing an allegedly offensive Halloween costume at her own party off campus. However, Schill was unable to give his annual state of the university speech after students took over the event and denounced him a “CEO” of a “business firm.”
There is a growing concern over the intolerance shown conservative students and groups on our campuses. The latest such incident occurred at Seattle University School of Law where a debate was planned on immigration with both liberal and conservative views represented. That would seem precisely the type of exchange that law schools relish. However, students protested that one of the sponsors was the conservative Federalist Society. Over a couple hundred people signed a Change.org petition asking the school to cancel the Oct. 16th debate. The debate was scheduled to be part of the school’s “Social Justice Monday” series and was co-hosted by the school’s Access to Justice Institute. The law school eventually withdrew as a sponsor due to the protests from students.
A viral video from a Seattle coffee shop illustrates the growing tension between free speech and religious exercise values. In the Facebook video, Ben Borgman — the owner of Bedlam Coffee shop — threw a Christian group out of his shop while spewing vulgar and obscene comments about their views. There are a growing number of such conflicts as store owners assert their right to refuse to serve those with opposing religious or social values. On December 5, the Supreme Court will hear the argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Rights Commission. That case will determine if a cake shop owner could refuse to prepare a cake for a same-sex couple on the basis of his opposing religious values.
UC Berkeley Professor Harley Shaiken probably did not expect to be denounced as a tool of the racist establishment when he came to class recently. After all, he was simply giving a midterm exam when protesters appeared to demand that he checked his “privilege” and cancel his exam due to the stress that it was causing for students. Instead, the students demanded that he assign a “take-home essay with significant time to prepare.” The scene was truly Felliniesque but whatever humor might be found in the moment was lost by the fact that this is not an isolated occurrence on our campuses, as we have previously discussed.