UC Berkeley Is Again at the Center of Free Speech Debate

Berkeley College Republicans say an appearance by Ben Shapiro is being blocked by administration

The University of California, Berkeley is once again at the center of a heated debate surrounding free speech.

The Daily Wire is reporting that the University of California, Berkeley is refusing to host its editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro at a Berkeley College Republicans (BCR) event in September, and other media outlets have reported that the event has been canceled.

According to emails between the BCR and Berkeley Student Affairs obtained by TheWrap, the event is still in the planning stage. Dan Mogulof, Assistant Vice Chancellor of the Office of Communication and Public Affairs, confirmed to TheWrap that the event has not been planned, and that they have not received a response from BCR regarding setting up a “security assessment meeting,” which is required before any date, time or venue for the event can be set, according to university policy.

“Before we describe the other venue and timing options we have been able to identify, we must emphasize that before we can move to finalize the event’s date, time, and location, there must be a UCPD security assessment, as per long-standing policy that applies to every RSO [that’s Registered Student Organization] interested in hosting an event. We plan on scheduling, without delay, a meeting with UCPD to initiate the review and gather needed information,” reads an email from Student Affairs, followed by four dates with varying time frames for a meeting.

The policy referred to states that the security assessments and rules are in place “to ensure safety while protecting the First Amendment rights.”

The email continues: “Because Mr. Shapiro is welcome on our campus, and we are committed to supporting his, and your, rights to free speech, we very much hope that the BCR and Mr. Shapiro can be flexible when it comes to the timing and location criteria you initially established. In that context we have tentatively reserved a few venues on BCR’s behalf that can be discussed as part of the event’s security review. These venues include smaller spaces on the date requested and larger venues on other dates in September.”

The BCR and the Young America’s Foundation, which is helping BCR host the event, say that the security threats cited are just an excuse to block the event. “The university continues its shameful tactic of hiding behind vague security concerns,” said external vice president of the UC Berkeley College Republicans Naweed Tahmas in an email to the Washington Post.

“Most recently, the university police and the administration cited broad concerns that Ann Coulter’s speaking engagement would spark violent protests,” Tahmas’ email continued. “Ultimately, after massive police presence the day of Ms. Coulter’s proposed speaking date, the Anti-Fascists and other left-wing groups did not show. In fact, they released an op-ed stating that they had no intentions or plans to disrupt Ann Coulter’s speaking engagement at UC Berkeley. After canceling our last three events, UC Berkeley has solidified itself as an ideological echo chamber, as only favored viewpoints may be heard on campus with no meaningful opposition or challenge permitted. This is a disservice to students as it is incumbent upon universities to expose students to a breadth of different ideological views.”

“Using ridiculous pretexts to keep conservatives from speaking is unsurprising but disappointing,” Shapiro said in a statement. “We’ll find a way to get this event done, and UC Berkeley has a moral and legal obligation to ensure we do so.”

In April, the BCR invited conservative pundit Ann Coulter to speak on the Berkeley campus, but after threats of violence, dropped their support of the event. After losing the group’s support, Coulter  cancelled her scheduled speech. She told The New York Times, at the time, “It’s a sad day for free speech.”

And in February, massive protests erupted on the school’s campus ahead of a visit by Milo Yiannopoulos, causing $100,000 in damages, as CNN reported.