Milo Yiannopoulos is back at it again, and with his imminent return to campus, free speech has once again re-entered the UCLA news cycle.
Yiannopoulos, the infamously anti-feminist speaker from Breitbart News Network and possible choice for President-elect Donald Trump’s press secretary, will reportedly return to UCLA sometime in February. That date may sound like it’s on the distant horizon for many Bruins who are just trying to get through of Week 10 and finals week with their GPAs intact, but some proactive students are apparently ready to spring into action. One UCLA-affiliated Facebook user has already organized a protest for the event called “Protest: Milo Yiannopoulos @ UCLA.”
The First Amendment protects both Yiannopoulos’ right to voice his opinion and the right for opposition to protest the event peacefully. I’m concerned by the fact that the Facebook event organizers and some supporters in the discussion forum on the “Protest: Milo Yiannopoulos @ UCLA” Facebook event are urging people to call UCLA administration to try to get them to cancel the event.
Look: The things Yiannopoulos has said about women are incredibly disgusting, sexist and flat-out poppycock. He uses incendiary language intentionally in order to provoke fury from his opponents. I could rage on for days with a plethora of other adjectives to express my disgust for this man. I fully understand how his beliefs could be considered hate speech, and I support the people who want to protest the event.
I do not support, however, the idea of having a public university shut the event down, and neither does the Constitution. There have been numerous Supreme Court cases that have reaffirmed the protection of speech that could be deemed hate speech.
Texas v. Johnson affirms the fact the First Amendment protects the right to express ideas, even if they are deeply offensive. The court opinion, written by Justice William Brennan, states: “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
The UC system falls under the purview of California state government since the system receives money from the legislature, and the creation of the Board of Regents is outlined in Article IX, Section 9 of California’s Constitution. California’s Constitution, as well as the U.S. Constitution, also prohibits the restriction of free speech in Article I, Section 2. However, it does stipulate every person should “(be) responsible for the abuse of this right.“
So protesters, please do just that: Hold Yiannopoulos responsible for his abuse of the right. Protest this event with vigor – peaceful protest is, after all, your constitutional right. When he opens the discussion up for questions, use the forum as an opportunity to tell your stories. Find and point out the flaws in his argument. Ask him questions that highlight the ways in which he is bigoted and sexist. As corny and “kumbaya” as it sounds, engage in a dialogue. But whatever you do, do not try to end the dialogue before it even begins.
Instead of asking UCLA to shut the event down, ask them to issue a statement recognizing that, while UCLA does not condone or support any part of Yiannopoulos’ message, the University has a special role in an academic setting to uphold the freedom of speech that both the U.S. and California Constitution address so prominently.
As an out-of-state student from St. Louis, Missouri, I came to UCLA to be part of a dynamic, diverse community that would challenge what I believe and cause me to re-evaluate my worldview. This means being exposed to viewpoints I don’t agree with, and being exposed to them often. We didn’t come to UCLA to frolic for four years in an echo chamber.
An environment that silences speakers contributes to the worrisome suppression of free speech on the far left side of the political spectrum. People who support free-speech suppression prove that the ideological spectrum is more becoming more circular, rather than staying linear. If one can justify suppression of ideas for the advancement of an agenda, then regardless of the ideas, one veers dangerously into the tides of fascism.
In light of the fact that President-elect Trump doesn’t seem to understand the First Amendment at all, you should be worried about your right to free speech, both due to efforts from the white nationalist individuals who support Trump and the far leftists who denounce him in the name of oppression. Dangerously one-sided political rhetoric put Trump in office in the first place and will continue to ravage our country under his administration if we do not take steps now to address it in all forms.
I am not saying people who disagree with Yiannopoulos’ message should be quiet. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be angry at his words. But for the future protection of free expression for all in this country, we must not silence him. If you don’t like it, challenge it. Use your own agency and right to free speech to voice your opinion. But don’t try to shut it down.