Free Speech

Free Speech Under Attack at UC Berkeley

No one has the right to use their speech to prevent someone else from speaking or to commit violence.

Antisemitism on college campuses is not new, but since Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, there have been many instances of antisemitism seen across the country and the world.

At the beginning of the year, Ivy League university presidents Liz Magill of University of Pennsylvania and Claudine Gay of Harvard University resigned after criticism of their response to antisemitism on their campuses.

On February 27, yet another example of antisemitism was on display at the University of California-Berkeley when a Jewish club invited IDF soldier Ran Bar-Yoshafat to speak on campus. Protesters stormed the event and broke glass windows. Jewish students also reported being spat on and physically assaulted.

Students attending the event had to sneak out to a secret location because the university did not stop the riot, and Bar-Yoshafat said that school officials asked him to leave because they could not ensure his safety or the safety of students attending the event.

“Instead of giving more security to us, they gave a prize to those who were violent,” he told The Daily Wire. “They basically said those banging on doors and spitting on Jews are allowed to continue, but I had to leave even though I was just peacefully speaking.”

Just a few days later, Hannah Beth Schlacter, a student at UC Berkeley, spoke on a panel of college students from across the country at a U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce bipartisan member roundtable.

“Instead of providing a safe environment for education, Berkeley tells Jews to stay away from campus,” she said.

These threats have led parents to raise $40,000 to hire private security so Jewish students can feel safe on campus. Undergraduate tuition already costs up to $26,358 per year at UC Berkeley; parents should not have to worry about their children’s safety or have to spend any additional money to ensure it.

Everyone has the right to free speech, but no one has the right to use their speech to prevent someone else from speaking or to commit violence. However, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), 78% of UC Berkeley students believe it is “at least rarely acceptable” to shout down a speaker on campus. Of the 248 schools ranked, UC Berkeley ranks 147th on FIRE’s 2024 College Free Speech Rankings, as well as 240th in the category of “comfort expressing ideas” and 241st in “disruptive conduct.”

California has enacted some protections for free speech at colleges and universities. In addition to public institutions, California is the only state to protect free speech at private institutions through what is called the “Leonard Law” (CA Ed Code 94367). This law prohibits postsecondary educational institutions from disciplining students for their speech and allows students to take civil action against their school if their free speech rights have been violated.

States looking to defend free speech on their campuses should look to ALEC model policies, the Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act and The Free Speech in Higher Education Act.

The FORUM Act prohibits public institutions of higher education from creating “free speech zones” that restrict free speech to certain areas on campus, requires these institutions to report on free speech issues and educate students on their free speech rights, and allows students to bring a cause of action for freedom of speech violations against them on campus.

The Free Speech in Higher Education Act prohibits public institutions of higher education from creating “bias reporting systems” to stifle free speech on campus and from charging discriminatory fees to student groups hosting a speaker on campus.

More ALEC model policies can be found in our publication, Essential Policy Solutions for 2024.

In Depth: Free Speech

Freedom of speech is paramount for the American system of government and American culture. Born from revolution, American society has been created, evolved and progressed based in part, on the First Amendment. More specifically, free speech allows individual’s to use their own voice to ensure “We the People” would control…

+ Free Speech In Depth