Chronicle editorial: “Free speech isn’t free”

Milo Yiannopoulos Photo: Drew Angerer, Getty ImagesPhoto: Drew Angerer, Getty Images.  Milo Yiannopoulos

September 22, 2017

Yes, Milo Yiannopoulos is a vile demagogue. Yes, the student groups inviting him and other right-wing agitators to UC Berkeley sometimes appear willfully incompetent. And, yes, Yiannopoulos and company are trying to provoke outrage and violence from left-wing militants who have been all too willing to oblige, forcing the campus to assume extraordinary security expenses.

None of that, however, alters a public university’s duty to tolerate even regrettable expression. University leaders deserve credit for making that clear in recent weeks and taking pains to accommodate controversial speakers, resisting a chorus of misguided doubts about the value of unfettered speech and Berkeley’s obligation to welcome it.

Yiannopoulos and fellow bigoted blowhard Ann Coulter, whom Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ aptly described as “deeply trivial people,” may be on campus next week — or may not, judging by past cancellations — along with a highly speculative list of other potential guests that includes President Trump’s ousted consigliere, Steve Bannon, for what they’re calling Free Speech Week.  The recently appointed chancellor wisely responded by declaring  Free Speech Year and urging the campus to “respond to hate speech with more speech.”  As she told The Chronicle’s editorial board Thursday, “The price of free speech is the protection of abhorrent and odious speech.”

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