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Thursday, February 25, 2021

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

America is under siege. We see it on our campuses. We see it in our culture. And we see it in our communications — particularly the censorship by Big Tech.

Left-wing professors, liberal activists, mass media, even major corporations are attempting to cancel conservative thought. They don’t want to compete in the battle of ideas — because they know they’d lose. They just want to cancel us.


I know what that is like. Ten years ago, the Occupy Movement didn’t start on Wall Street; it started on my street. The big-government special interests tried to intimidate us from doing what was right.  

One of the cars we saw in the People’s Republic of Madison spoke to the irony of the left. It had two bumper stickers. One said: COEXIST. The other said: RECALL SCOTT WALKER. You can’t make this stuff up.

In many ways, it is like the current calls from liberals for unity. They only mean it if you agree with them. If not, they want to intimidate you, or recall you, or cancel you.

We have to fight back. In particular, we have to fight back in defense of free speech.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Despite this constitutional guarantee, freedom of speech is most at risk today on our college campuses — the very places it should be most revered by the masses.

Sadly, there are plenty of examples of college administrators and student governments infringing on the free speech rights of students. I am excited to serve as the new president of Young America’s Foundation, where we are fighting to protect the free speech rights of conservative students across the country. Here are a few examples of stories we posted on YAF.org/FreeSpeech:

Twice, in the spring of 2017, and then again in the fall of 2017, University of California-Berkeley administrators discriminated against conservatives and Young America’s Foundation and its speakers on the basis of viewpoint. In each of these instances, UC-Berkeley administrators applied their unwritten — and highly unconstitutional — “High-Profile Speaker Policy” to block conservative speakers from stepping foot onto campus.

The school used this policy to impose a 3 p.m. curfew on YAF-sponsored lectures, ban advertising and charge conservative students thousands in “security fees.” For one of the speakers, Berkeley denied her access to on-campus lecture halls altogether.

Then, when YAF sponsored a third speaker for a campus lecture, UC-Berkeley administrators charged conservative students a security fee three-times higher than the fee it charged left-leaning students to host U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the same auditorium. They claim to support free speech, but if they impose undue barriers that are not applied to similar organizations on the left, they are not supporting free speech.

To restore the First Amendment rights of conservative students, Young America’s Foundation filed a lawsuit in federal court, represented by Harmeet Dhillon, against UC-Berkeley and several of its administrators individually — including University of California President Janet Napolitan.

Realizing YAF would not easily back down from defending the rights of conservative students, UC-Berkeley agreed to settle the case, pay YAF $70,000, rescind its unconstitutional high profile speaker policy and viewpoint discriminatory security fee policy, and abolish its heckler’s veto that allowed protesters to silence conservative expression. All-in-all: a big win for free speech rights.

In a similar case, Young America’s Foundation defended students’ rights at California State University-Los Angeles (CSULA) after school officials censored a YAF-sponsored student lecture featuring Ben Shapiro. Three days before the lecture was scheduled to take place, the university’s president, William Covino, canceled the lecture, reasoning that it was “best for our campus community.”

When students informed the university of their plans to host Mr. Shapiro anyway, university administrators and professors — forming a human chain — physically blocked students from entering a YAF-sponsored campus lecture.

Young America’s Foundation, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a First Amendment lawsuit against numerous CSULA officials, including the university president. The case settled after the university promised that it would not engage in acts of viewpoint discrimination in the future. These are just two examples, but there are plenty of cases from across the country.

Unless we take action, it’s only going to get worse. A recent poll conducted by YAF shows that 93% of college students agree that it is important to protect free speech. When pressed, however, more than half of the liberal students support some form of censorship to ensure that no one is offended (except for conservatives).

Young people didn’t learn this on their own. Years of left-wing professors and increasing numbers of radical activists have shaped a new generation of snowflakes. That weak mindset has seeped into our culture. Plus, many corporations have bought into that woke garbage.

Free people must be able to speak out and challenge ideas. The Constitution guarantees us that right, but freedom is fragile. We must fight to protect it. 

• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at swalker@washingtontimes.com or follow him @ScottWalker.


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