FIRE on Binghamton Protest of Art Laffer: “Latest in a Disturbing Trend of Protesters Silencing Others”
“The biggest threat to free speech at Binghamton Monday evening wasn’t the police or Art Laffer — but the vigilante censors”
“Disturbing” is an excellent word to describe what happened. Read the full back story here.
From the FIRE blog:
After Binghamton shoutdown, protesters need to know how the First Amendment works
It happened again. This time, at New York’s Binghamton University.
A protester with a bullhorn hijacked a Nov. 18 lecture from economist Art Laffer, who was invited to speak by the BU College Republicans. The shoutdown, which happened just minutes after the event began, is the latest in a disturbing trend of protesters silencing others rather than debating them.
Binghamton prepped for controversy about as well as a university can — it provided an alternative space for protesters to exercise their own First Amendment rights, ensured police were on site to prevent violence, and asked attendees to save questions for after Laffer’s speech. Today, the university also issued a laudable statement acknowledging that “freedom of speech is fundamental to our core mission; academic inquiry and the exchange of ideas rest on the principle that all have a right to express their beliefs.”
On a campus still navigating the aftermath of last week’s violent confrontation between protesters and College Republicans, tensions were already high.
Authorities should not punish every instance of protest at a public speech — particularly quiet or fleeting protests. But where a time and space is reserved for a particular speaker, and protesters create a sustained disruption, colleges can and should step in. The First Amendment does not protect continuous protest intended to make it impossible for an event to continue. Protesters don’t have the right to silence a speaker’s event, and open discourse is not for sale to the loudest bidder.
In that sense, there is a sad irony in protesters chanting “Free speech!” as police attempted to allow the event to proceed. The biggest threat to free speech at Binghamton Monday evening wasn’t the police or Art Laffer — but the vigilante censors who decided they alone should dictate what others can say or hear.
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