Why the free speech on campus debate is flawed

Ohio State University is facing a lawsuit from Georgia State University graduate student Cameron Padgett after declining white nationalist Richard Spencer’s request to speak on their campus, citing a “substantial risk to public safety.” Padgett’s lawsuit, aided by Michigan Attorney Kyle Bristow, who is identified as a white nationalist by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is the latest in an exploitative alt-right campaign to corrupt our nation’s value of free speech. Ultimately, white nationalists’ expression of their views is protected under the Constitution; however, universities and other organizations are not obligated to foot the moral, financial and administrative bill of their dangerous rhetoric.

Richard Spencer is a bona fide white nationalist, who has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” in America and has said that “America, at the end of the day, belongs to white men.” (Looks like we can throw misogynist in there too.) Spencer and his band of racists are the epitome of deplorable figures in America; they espouse eugenics and bask in their psuedo-intellectual racism. Although these words may be expressing their preference for “peaceful” genocide, they are still entitled to express these views fully.

Although Spencer might actually be horrible enough to believe the things he says, he and a number of similar speakers, such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter, organize these events as a larger part of an agitation strategy. Fully knowing just how vilified their politics are, these professional trolls organize speaking events with the hope of generating as much outrage and news coverage as possible.

The result is extensive camera coverage of someone trying to speak against the backdrop of a heavy police barricade, furious protesters and often random violence in the surrounding area as this “poor speaker” isn’t allowed to even speak to the crowd. These racist extremists use whataboutism to change the topic of discussion from their own despicable views instead to the suppression of free speech, because who doesn’t support free speech?

However, these troll tactics have repeatedly proven to work. Short-sighted students and protest groups have foolishly turned violent and attempted to shut down events instead of peacefully protesting or instead opting to win a war of ideas. Counter-protesters should be showing solidarity in the ideas they champion: Peace, tolerance and compassion.

When the protests get violent, these demagogues always gain sympathy points in defense of “free speech,” and the shocking depravity of their views isn’t even compared to the minor offense of shouting down Nazis. As a result, we’ve moved from “Nazis are bad,” to, “Protect free speech for Nazis!” This twisted documentation of national events, largely perpetuated by the careless agitation of counter-protesters consequently feeds the narrative that liberals and academia are “out of touch hypocritical elites” who don’t support free speech.

In addition to adding fuel to the ever-so-predominant fire of divisions in America, these “free speech” events also carry enormous costs to the universities themselves. Protection for Spencer’s prospective speech was estimated at around $600,000. At Ohio State, that means Spencer’s petty stunt would’ve cost more than the yearly tuition of 20 students. Free speech, it turns out, isn’t always free.

To demand that universities bear the staggering costs of these frivolous, inflammatory events is nothing less than fraudulent to the American public. When speech becomes so controversial and expensive, eventually someone has to be held responsible for the cost. If Richard Spencer wants to pontificate his racism all day, no one is stopping him. But if he wants to speak at at a university, someone has to pay for it. So who is willing?

For groups of students who really want to hear a speaker, there are numerous alternatives to forcing that speaker’s way on campus at the expense of the university. Refusing to pay someone else’s unreasonably high expenses is anything but free speech. You’d think it would be right-wingers, of all people, who would be so opposed to handouts.

Lawsuits challenging universities that stand up for themselves and refuse to subsidize racist and nationalist propaganda are just as frivolous as the events that they push for. Efforts to force these reprehensible firebrands into our public sphere is an act of outright bullying that the American public should not stand for. No organization owes their platform to these demagogues; they can continue shouting from the gutter.

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