Radicals violated the constitutional rights of Arthur Laffer and conservative students on the campus of the State University of New York at Binghamton (SUNY-Binghamton). The administration did nothing about it. That is cancel culture.
Young America’s Foundation (YAF) partnered with the SUNY-Binghamton College Republicans to bring Mr. Laffer to speak on campus about economic freedom.
Mr. Laffer was the first to hold the title of chief economist at the Office of Management and Budget and he served as a consultant to Secretary of the Treasury William Simon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of the Treasury George Shultz. He was a member of President Ronald Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board. In 2019, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his public service and contributions to economic policy.
Not exactly a radical choice for a campus speaker.
Yet four days before Mr. Laffer’s address at SUNY-Binghamton, a 200-person mob of leftists harassed and assaulted College Republicans who were promoting the YAF lecture. Sadly, campus police took no action to protect the free speech rights of the students on campus and administrators did nothing to hold the radical activists accountable for their actions.
YAF repeatedly sought assurances from the administrators and campus police that a similar disruption would not occur when Mr. Laffer spoke on campus. They refused to provide any commitment that order would be maintained during the lecture.
Even worse, the administration and campus police were aware of plans by leftist agitators to interrupt and silence Mr. Laffer’s lecture; they took no action to block the plans and actually made it easier by providing the radicals a room right next to the lecture hall.
Within seconds of Mr. Laffer taking the podium, College Progressives and other agitators started interrupting his remarks. Campus police observed the chaos, but took no action to prevent the unlawful disruption.
Eventually, the campus police removed Mr. Laffer from the lecture hall — not the agitators. They failed to honor their obligations to protect freedom of speech. Furthermore, they failed to protect the rights of the students who showed up to hear the lecture on economic freedom.
YAF — joined by the local College Republicans as plaintiffs — with the legal assistance of Alliance Defending Freedom — filed a federal lawsuit against the leadership at SUNY-Binghamton and the agitators involved in the disruption of Mr. Laffer. Just as we won when the University of California at Berkeley tried to block YAF from bringing conservative speakers to campus, we will win this case.
Freedom of speech, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, should be revered on our college campuses. Sadly, that is exactly where this fundamental right is most at risk. That’s why YAF is pushing an aggressive new effort to seek out and win free speech battles all across the nation. It is part of our new action plan called The Long Game.
A columnist in The Washington Post recently claimed that YAF is hypocritical on cancel culture because of our long history of opposing the oppression within communist and socialist regimes, and encouraging boycotts against those who support these regimes. We do. And we will. But that does not put YAF at odds with current concerns about cancel culture. (Not surprisingly, the editors at The Washington Post refused to publish a column from YAF refuting the attacks from the original column. That too, is a form of cancel culture).
First, encouraging people not to support businesses and organizations whose actions violate our principles is not the same as blocking someone else’s ability to speak. At YAF, we believe that everyone, including supporters of socialist and Marxist positions, has a right to freedom of speech.
Saying that we are boycotting the Major League Baseball’s All Star Game is not the same as saying that the league should not be able to broadcast the game. Boycotts are most certainly not cancel culture.
Secondly, a particular concern on college campuses is the so-called “heckler’s veto.” To be clear, students and others have a right to protest when a conservative speaker appears on campus (I have plenty of experience dealing with mobs who disagreed with me). But the right to protest does not extend to the ability to shout down the voices of people you do disagree with.
Throughout society, and most importantly on campuses, we should be able to have a civil debate on the merits of different viewpoints. As conservatives, we are confident in the strength of our ideas. We love America and we want everyone to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities so uniquely provided in this great republic.
If Mr. Laffer was allowed to speak, he most certainly would have done an even better job of conveying that point to the students. The fact that he was not able to speak is exactly why we must end cancel culture’s reign in this country now.
• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @ScottWalker.
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