On Monday, the University of California—Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation filed a lawsuit against Berkeley over the postponement of a planned speech by Ann Coulter last week, ostensibly over security concerns. Coulter, whose speech was initially cancelled and then moved back a week, has said she intends to appear at Berkeley on the originally scheduled date, this Thursday, April 27, with or without Berkeley’s approval. From the lawsuit:
This case arises from efforts by one of California’s leading public universities, UC Berkeley — once known as the birthplace of the “Free Speech Movement” — to restrict and stifle the speech of conservative students whose voices fall beyond the campus political orthodoxy. Though UC Berkeley promises its students an environment that promises free debate and the free exchange of ideas, it had breached this promise through the repressive actions of University administrators and campus police, who have systematically and intentionally suppressed constitutionally-protected expression by Plaintiffs…simply because that expression may anger or offend students, UC Berkeley administrators, and/or community members who do not share Plaintiff’s viewpoints.
The repressive actions alleged by Berkeley Republicans and YAF include previous wrangling over a scheduled and ultimately cancelled speech by David Horowitz and Berkeley’s offer to reschedule Coulter’s speech for May 2—a date lawyers representing the groups say is unsuitable because it falls during a study period for students. Berkeley responded to lawyers by reiterating that security concerns, not Coulter’s opinions, had informed their decision. “Student organizations’ access to event venues on campus is subject to the availability of venues of appropriate size and the ability of the University to provide adequate security,” chief campus counsel Christopher Patti wrote in a letter to the lawyers.
“This Semester,” he wrote additionally, “UC Berkeley has dedicated more resources—in the form of staff time, administrative attention, police resources, and cash outlay—to facilitating BCR’s expressive activities than have been devoted to any other student group in memory.” Here Patti refers to the fracas surrounding Milo Yiannopoulos scheduled talk in February, which was ultimately cancelled and drew violent protests. A day after Milo had been scheduled to appear, Berkeley College Republicans released a statement thanking “UCPD and the university administration for doing all they could to ensure the safety of everyone involved.”
Yiannopoulos, as it happens, announced plans for a “Free Speech Week” at Berkeley later this year on Friday. “We will hold talks and rallies and throw massive parties, all in the name of free expression and the First Amendment,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “If UC Berkeley does not actively assist us in the planning and execution of this event, we will extend festivities to an entire month. We will establish a tent city on Sproul Plaza protesting the university’s total dereliction of its duty and encourage students at other universities to follow suit.”
The Coulter lawsuit comes less than a week after a federal judge granted an injunction forcing Auburn University to let white nationalist Richard Spencer speak at a planned event. That speech too had been cancelled on security grounds. “This is a moment to savor,” Spencer said in a video following the ruling. “We just achieved a great victory.” If far right speakers continue to force the hands of public universities—through legal action or simply by showing up as Coulter and Yiannopoulos intend to do—further victories are sure to come.