The American Civil Liberties Union is condemning the threats that forced Ann Coulter to cancel her speech at the University of California, Berkeley.
“The unacceptable threats of violence that have led to the ‘hecklers’ veto’ of Ann Coulter’s speech at Berkeley are inconsistent with free speech principles that protect us all from government overreach,” David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director, said in a statement Wednesday after Coulter canceled her appearance, which had been scheduled for Thursday.
“Hateful speech has consequences, particularly for people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and others who have been historically marginalized,” Cole continued. “But if the government gets to decide which speech counts as hate speech, the powers that be may later feel free to censor any speech they don’t like.”
He added: “For the future of our democracy, we must protect bigoted speech from government censorship. On college campuses, that means that the best way to combat hateful speech is through counter-speech, vigorous and creative protest, and debate, not threats of violence or censorship.”
On Twitter, Coulter appeared to mock the timing of the ACLU’s statement.
Way to step in when we needed you, ACLU! https://t.co/437GRNH2zd
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) April 27, 2017
“Way to step in when we needed you, ACLU!” she tweeted.
Last week, university and police officials said they feared Coulter’s appearance would spark violence on campus, citing “very specific intelligence” of threats against the conservative firebrand.
In February, violent protests forced the cancellation of a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative provocateur who, like Coulter, was invited to speak by a group of Berkeley Republicans. The event was called off after protesters clashed with police, lit fires and smashed windows outside the student union, forcing a temporary lockdown.
In response, President Trump threatened to defund the school.
“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” the president tweeted.
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
Earlier this month, a pro-Trump rally was marred by violence as far-right supporters of the president clashed with protesters.
On Wednesday, UC-Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks said the school has to balance protecting free speech with protecting the safety of students.
“This is a university, not a battlefield,” Dirks wrote in a letter to students and faculty. “The university has two non-negotiable commitments, one to free speech, the other to the safety of our campus community.”
In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Coulter said her cancellation is emblematic of a broader issue.
“What’s going on with Berkeley, it shows how radical the universities are generally,” Coulter said. “Yes, they want to destroy and squelch conservative speech, but there is a separate issue with the universities. When you have Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Bill Maher — when they are all saying, ‘Get over yourselves, Berkeley, we have a First Amendment’ — people have fought and died for the right to free speech. The college Republicans are a student group. I am not a homeless person wandering into the square. But I would be allowed to speak then too. [Universities] are really outside the mainstream.”
Coulter told the Associated Press that while she would not be speaking at Berkeley, she might make an unscheduled appearance on campus.
“I’m going to be near there, so I might swing by to say hello to my supporters who have flown in from all around the country,” Coulter said in an email. “I thought I might stroll around the graveyard of the First Amendment.”
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