23 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2019 Last revised: 30 Jul 2019
Date Written: March 30, 2019
The conflict is all-too familiar. A controversial speaker is invited to speak at a university. The overwhelming majority of students on campus don’t care one way or the other. A small number of students want to hear what the speaker has to say — primarily, but not exclusively, those who are inclined to agree with the speaker. However, a protest is staged by an equally small number of students who disagree with that speaker’s opinions, and indeed object to his mere presence on campus. Most of those students demonstrate outside the event, or quietly protest inside the room. The leaders of the pack try a different approach: shout down the speaker in an effort to deplatform him.
This conflict is personally familiar: it happened to me. In March 2018, students at the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School disrupted my lecture. I will use my experiences to illustrate how students attempt to promote and inhibit certain types of speech. My goal is to assess how the First Amendment — and broader principles of free speech — should treat the heckler’s veto on today’s college campuses.
Part I explains why certain speakers are invited on campus. Part II addresses the corollary question: why do students protest those speakers? Part III considers the necessary consequence of Part II: how do students today protest speakers? This part also recounts my experiences at CUNY, and addresses how the First Amendment protects speakers who get #heckled. Finally, Part IV addresses how the university should respond to student protests.
Keywords: First Amendment, Campus Free Speech, Campus Protest, Heckler's Veto
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