Friday, July 07, 2017

UM paper should support free speech

The Michigan Daily recently published an editorial voicing opposition to two free speech bills pending in the Michigan Senate on the grounds that hecklers should be allowed to veto speech.

The editorial not only has a perverted understanding of First Amendment jurisprudence, but also ignores the University of Michigan’s current policy.

The Michigan Daily is wrong to suggest that our Constitution does not protect the “right to listen to a speech classified as freedom of speech.” In less confusing words, students have no right to listen to speech.

This is absurd. Public university facilities are considered limited public forums, meaning they cannot discriminate based upon viewpoint. Constitutionally, administrators must provide equal access to campus facilities for all students. They have an obligation to protect the freedom of expression of speakers sponsored by student groups in university venues. When the university allows hecklers to veto speech of only one viewpoint, they are de facto suppressing speech based on content.

In fact, the University of Michigan has a policy — Standard Practice Guide 601.1 on “Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression” — to protect the free speech rights of speakers and the students hosting them. That policy states, when hecklers try to subvert a speech on campus, “the effect is just as surely an attack on freedom of speech or artistic expression as the deliberate suppression or prohibition of a speaker or artist by authorities.” Hecklers subverting an event, according to existing University of Michigan policy, can also be removed.

Although some sections of Standard Practice Guide 601.1 need improvement, the policy is largely sound free speech policy.

The editorial also wrongly supports the university for allowing Black Lives Matter activists — students and outsiders alike — to subvert a Michigan Political Union debate. The university should have abided by its policy and removed the protesters who prevented the event from occurring as planned. Instead, university leaders stood silently as hundreds of protesters invaded and shut down the scheduled debate. This is why there are needed improvements to Standard Practice Guide 601.1, and why the State of Michigan needs to take further action to protect speech on campuses statewide.

The Michigan Daily ends its editorial by implying that the two Senate bills uphold free speech for speakers, but not for students. Their argument suggests that speakers exist on campus against the will of the students. This could not be further from the truth. Liberal student groups host leftist speakers without interruption, but when students hosts a conservative speaker, then it is okay to veto speech.

This mentality is antithetical to free speech and the mission of the University of Michigan. This is exactly the reason why Michigan’s legislators must act to ensure free speech for all students.

Michigan universities should be forced to remove disruptors who unduly interfere with events held by student groups, regardless of speakers’ viewpoints. When the radicals break the law, they should face the consequences. It is imperative to prevent situations in Michigan, like those at the University of California, Berkeley, where campus police have issued “stand-down” orders for protests against conservative speakers and have outright denied conservative student groups access to university venues.

Young America’s Foundation is currently suing Berkeley to secure the free speech, due process, and equal protection rights of students.

The two proposed bills, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Colbeck, will help protect students’ right to free speech and expression on campus, conservative and liberal alike. As a side benefit, if enforced, the two laws just might save taxpayers thousands of dollars in attorneys fees to defend future violations of free speech on campus.


UC Berkeley Tries to Dismiss Free Speech Lawsuit

The University of California, Berkeley is trying to dismiss a free speech lawsuit filed following the cancellation of Ann Coulter’s speech at the school in April.

UC Berkeley attorneys—including Janet Napolitano, system president of the University of California, and Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of UC Berkeley—insist the claims made by Young America’s Foundation and the Berkeley College Republicans are “moot,” according to a court document obtained by Campus Reform Friday.

“The alleged restrictions were viewpoint neutral because they were not motivated by disagreement with the speaker’s viewpoint,” said the attorneys.

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The attorneys assert that the cancellation Coulter’s speech had nothing to do with the author’s political views, arguing that there were instead “constitutional ‘time, place, and, manner regulations’” which restricted her speech.

“This weak attempt by the University of California, Berkeley to brush off their egregious free speech violations is staggering but unfortunately unsurprising given their demonstrated pattern of suppressing the First Amendment rights of conservatives on campus,” said Spencer Brown, spokesman for Young America’s Foundation. “As Young America’s Foundation has done throughout the last half-century, YAF will continue to stand up for students’ rights when their own schools engage in flagrant obstruction of free expression.”

Dan Mogulof, an assistant vice chancellor at Berkeley, said in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation that recent events at UC Berkeley have shown there is “insufficient awareness” as to the school’s speaker policies. He also acknowledged that policies currently in place “should be unified, standardized, and clarified.”

“Statements reasserting and emphasizing our existing policies and practices that make clear speaker viewpoints will not influence decisions relating to event approval or required security measures” will be added to the policy, according to Mogulof, a statement that suggests UC Berkeley administrators believe the school never did discriminate based on the political viewpoint of potential speakers.

“[UC Berkeley police] place the safety and well-being of our students as the lead priority which can, at rare times, lead the department to forego short-term arrests,” said Mogulof, denying the “stand down policy” that observers suspected the police to have.

“These decisions are made on a case-by-case basis by command staff based on their professional assessment, and suffice it to say there is nothing precluding them form effecting arrests if they believe that can be done with creating serious risk and danger for innocent bystanders and/or those who elect to engage in lawful protest.”

The assistant vice chancellor noted that while a new draft policy for campus speakers is not yet available for public consumption, the school intends to implement an interim policy by Aug. 13 before the start of the fall semester.

Berkeley has been the site of several protests and altercations between Donald Trump supporters and antifascists in 2017, including the riot that canceled conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’ February speech, a March 4 Trump conflict, and a Patriots Day rally skirmish in April.


Australian court orders government to release funding for Malek Fahd Islamic School

A Federal Court judge has ordered the government to no longer withhold funding to one of Australia's largest Islamic schools following a disagreement over the use of the money.

The Malek Fahd Islamic School in NSW was in April notified its funding would be delayed after the government cited concerns over its governance, restructuring, and transparency.

The school has more than 2300 students and 250 teachers across several campuses and there were fears it would have to close if the money wasn't restored.

Federal Court Judge John Griffiths on Thursday said the case had "considerable urgency" about it, with term three due to begin on July 18.

He ordered the month-by-month funding be restored and back-paid to April, also acknowledging the school's "troubled history" in recent years.

Board chairman Dr John Bennett called the decision "a great relief" after a difficult time for the community.

"It's been very anxious, very stressful for parents, for students and staff," he said.

About 150 students are in years 11 and 12, only one term away from sitting for exams.

Part of the funding disagreement centred on whether the school was operating on a for-profit basis.

It was argued that public funds were at risk of being passed to the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils because of a current contractual obligation to pay non-commercial rent to AFIC.

Judge Griffiths rejected the submission and agreed with the school's explanation that it was "asset rich but cash poor".

Dr Bennett said many of the problems cited related to a previous board which was replaced in March last year.

Since then, it has been adjusting its governance and financial operations. AFIC no longer has representation on the board.

The school was "very, very close" to addressing the government's concerns, Dr Bennett said. "We're committed to continuing with the work. "We want to be able to focus on the education of the students."

The matter is listed for a case management hearing on August 1.


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