Public Comment

Misconceptions Misconceptions Everywhere; Open Letter to Gene Bernardi

Carol Denney
Friday September 22, 2017 - 03:13:00 PM

Gene Bernardi's letter has some common misconceptions: Chancellor Christ is not the person inviting the alt-right speakers to the UC Berkeley campus any more than the mayors of Berkeley and San Francisco are inviting the white supremacists groups. But all of them are obligated by law to allow the speakers to speak.

The invitations are coming from, in UC's case, the Berkeley College Republicans, and a second group called Berkeley Patriot. Both groups have connections to right-wing political efforts who want to use Berkeley as a speakers' setting because of the likelihood that liberal/left groups will violently overreact and prove their point; that there is censorship of right-wing speech.

Public forums, even "limited public forums" are obligated under the law to accommodate any speakers chosen by the student groups without any content-based restrictions. The restrictions have to be security-based or safety decisions because of campus' equally serious legal obligation to keep the campus safe and protect people's right to teach, attend classes, etc., as well as hear the speakers chosen by the clubs. 

Colleges, city parks, etc., are public forums, and cannot restrict speech based on content, so emphatically yes, Spencer, Coulter, Bannon, etc. (Spencer vs. Auburn University) have the right to speak on campuses if they are invited. But they are "limited public forums" according to the courts, and have the right to create rules and restrictions as long as those rules and restrictions have nothing to do with the content of the speech (Supreme Court 1983). 

One last thing; speaking and writing generally about "white supremacist groups and speakers" is a little broad, and it sounds dumb applied to someone like Ben Shapiro. He's Jewish, for one thing. I wouldn't waste my time stopping him from speaking. I just wouldn't buy a ticket or attend the rally. 

Let's work toward a community-wide forum so some of this information can be shared better. And there is nothing Chancellor Christ would like more than a Civil Rights week with speakers; any campus club could put it together with your help.