Ann Coulter has canceled her speech at Berkley because of concerns about violent protests. I am not a fan of Ms. Coulter, based on the few times I have caught her on the news, and because I had no interest in what she might say, I gave the event—or now non-event—little thought. Better minds than mine have weighed in, and late-night comics have had a field day ridiculing leftwing extremists both for their past violent protests of various conservative speakers as well as specifically for this latest manifestation of progressive intolerance.
But her canceling juxtaposed itself with my stumbling across an opinion piece in The New York Times calling for regulation of the First Amendment. To be honest, when I first read it, I thought it was a clever piece of satire. The article was written by a New York University provost (Vice-Provost for Faculty, Arts, Humanities, and Multiculturalism) by the name of Ulrich Baer, and he writes, among other statements, that: “The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks.”
Uh, excuse me? I thought that was precisely the point of the First amendment.
Mr. Baer goes on to state that, “Universities invite speakers…to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.” Mr. Baer cites two particularly repugnant people, Milos Yiannopoulos and white supremacist Richard Spencer as examples of speakers whose speeches were cancelled or disrupted because their views “invalidate the humanity of some people.”
But Mr. Baer then goes on to specifically praise student protestors and “the activists in Black Lives Matter…for keeping watch over the soul of our Republic,” and that is why I thought at first it was satire. After all, those would be the same protestors who use violence to restrict speech and opinions they do not agree with, sort of the way the Nazi Sturmabteilung did for Adolph Hitler back in the 1920s and ‘30s. Those would be the same Black Lives Matter protestors whose marches included chants calling for the death of law enforcement officers, an activity specifically excluded from the right to freedom of speech (“inciting actions that would harm others” and “threats of violence are outside the First Amendment,” according to the government’s U.S. Courts webpage and multiple other legal sources). I could also make an argument that calling for the death of law enforcement officers is not only illegal, but that it also kind of, sort of, what you might call, invalidates their humanity, but apparently Mr. Baer is selective in his choice of who or which groups should be restricted in their exercise of their First Amendment rights.
And therein lies the puerile nonsense inherent in Mr. Baer’s views: who is the lucky individual who gets to decide which person or group is so offensive that their views “invalidate the humanity of some people?” I suspect Mr. Baer and Richard Spencer have pretty disparate points of view, but is Mr. Baer, like the pigs in Animal Farm, a little more equal than Mr. Spencer?
I put far more faith in Mel Brooks’ response when he was criticized for a writing a movie that showed Nazis singing and dancing and even presented a stoned-out Adolph Hitler as a primary character. Brooks wisely commented that the best way to take power away from evil men was to ridicule them. With that in mind, Mr. Baer deserves at least as much ridicule as Mr. Spencer or the Black Lives Matter movement or even a certain German dictator who had equally little regard for freedom of expression. Who would have imagined Nazism and progressive lunacy would both need comedians to expose their idiotic extremism?