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Berkeley Free Speech Woes Are Microcosm of U.S. Universities

The University of California, Berkeley has had a tumultuous year. Multiple episodes of speakers being denied a platform on campus have led to an outcry from student groups and free speech activists across the nation. Masked rioters have spurred on counter rioters, who have shown up to some events on campus and in the town of Berkeley itself willing to do battle on behalf of freedom of speech. At times, these demonstrations have devolved into street brawls.

This atmosphere, almost revolutionary in character, has loomed over the recently planned speech that was to have been given by right-leaning author Ann Coulter. At first, the University declined to allow Ms. Coulter to speak in the usual venues and at the usual times that other speakers use due to concerns over unmanageable disruptions and potential violence. Ms. Coulter declined the university’s offer to speak at an off-campus location at a time when most students were not attending classes, claiming that the university was intentionally attempting to stifle her ability to reach a new audience.

There was a series of negotiations between Ms. Coulter and the university’s administration. But these ended at an impasse. Eventually, Ms. Coulter vowed to give her speech in the center of campus anyway, despite being warned not to do so by the college administration. But this put the university itself in a tricky position. It would still be responsible for any unrest or injuries that occurred to students, whether or not it had extended permission to Ms. Coulter to speak. But finally, amid increasing threats of violence from far-left radicals, the organization that had originally invited Ms. Coulter, the Berkeley College Republicans, rescinded its invitation to her. The University of California, Berkeley is, as a result, currently being sued in federal court by a student group claiming that its right to hear Ms. Coulter has been infringed.

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