Critique of Carol Christ in editorial was obtuse

letter to the editor
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Following the election of Donald Trump, I donated to the ACLU and ProPublica in my belief that these organizations would help protect the institution of free speech, assist in the critical examination of ideas through a free press, and provide a platform to advance civil liberties to all in our American community.

I was shocked and dismayed, therefore, by your editorial on Tuesday which repudiated UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ’s call for a “Free Speech Year.” You wrote that “White supremacists often use ‘free speech’ as their call to arms” and went on to cite Milo Yiannopoulos’ planned “free speech week” event later in September as your evidence.

I suppose, then, that the ACLU has a white supremacist agenda by making free speech a cornerstone of its activism, even as it dedicates entire divisions to advancing LGBTQ rights, fights to make America a home for all, and advocates for the rights of prisoners and lobbies against mass incarceration. The ACLU, it must be remembered, won landmark civil rights cases for flag burners and Nazis alike.

The call against free speech damages liberalism’s moral authority and constitutional foundation. Your editorial effectively ceded ground for protecting this most fundamental of civil liberties to Nazis and provocateurs, allowing them to gain sympathy with the “I’m not racist, but…” contingent of American society. This is a grave mistake that empowers those who spew racist and violent propaganda.

William Robertson is a junior at UC Berkeley.

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  • Dedalus

    There are three kinds of knowledge. Just three. What are they?
    There are four categories of thought. What are they?
    These should be the kinds of questions students must answer BEFORE they enter college.
    If you can’t answer them, you can’t get it. But, of course, people who go to prestigious (pretentious is more like it) institutions like UCB live to a ripe old age never knowing the answers.
    You might ask, What does this have to do with anything? Well, if you could answer the questions you’d already know. But I’ll give you a hint. It’s often asserted, but never proven, who the “Nazis” or “Racists” are. Accussations are made and people are supposed to cringe in fear on cue. It’s also asserted, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the “left” or “liberals” are ipso facto morally superior – or, moral supremacists – to use their own lingo. But no one who demands their right to speech and assembly only to turn around and demonize dissent and pathologize opposition can be morally superior, just delusional and dangerous.
    So, I leave with this. Define Nazi, and Racist. Then, with your definition, answer this simple question.
    What is there in the world that the words Nazi and Racist direct us to locate?
    Your answer will reveal, how well you know the answers to the two questions asked at the beginning of this comment, and, how valuable your contribution to Freedom of Speech is (or not).

  • flashsteve

    Liberalism has no ‘moral authority’. It is probably the biggest self delusion of liberals, though.

  • CSears

    “You wrote that “White supremacists often use ‘free speech’ as their call to arms” and went on to cite Milo Yiannopoulos’ planned “free speech week” event later in September as your evidence.”

    Whoa there, William. You almost but don’t actually bother to disagree with this. And then you left out Chancellor Christ’s following point: we should respond to hate speech with more speech.

    It is Yiannopoulos’ right to say what he wants in the political arena, most especially at Berkeley. It is our right to say what we want. Where you are not getting it, and you’re really not getting it, is that Chancellor Christ was referring to what Yiannopoulos is *saying* rather than his right to *say* it. She is judging him, correctly in my view, on what he has said and what he means.

    Yiannopoulos and his ilk are portraying themselves as free speech victims. They are neither. Their free speech is not in question and their claim of victimhood is laughable.

    • Will Sayres Robertson

      I appreciate your thoughtful response. I think I actually agree with you though: the editorial essentially argued that violent ideas don’t deserve free speech protection. The editorial board censured Carol Christ for her recognition of Milo’s right to speak. I objected to that. I decided to structure the article in a way that illustrated that constitiutional and civil rights experts generally support the rights of folks like Milo to speak. I also got a little bit snarky.

  • Killer Marmot


    It’s amazing how often the events at Charlottesville have been used in the last week to question the right to free speech, often with the argument that if the far-right are for something, then it’s the left’s job to be against it.

    In fact what is happening is that the right has found a hole in the left’s armour. The left’s tepid support for free speech is a glaring weakness that makes it look authoritarian and intolerant. The right has used that to make themselves look oppressed.

    For most conservatives, this argument is sincere. Many truly believe that free speech is the foundation of a healthy democracy, and that support for it is eroding. For the extreme right — which has little to do with conservatism — it’s likely nothing but a political ploy.

    The solution: not further restrictions on free speech. That plays directly into the far-right’s hands. Rather the left should acknowledge that their spotty support for individual liberties is a problem that needs fixing, and thus deny the far-right the moral high ground on this issue.

    • CSears

      No one is questioning Yiannopoulos First Amendment right to free speech.

      BTW, after Yiannopoulos attained national notoriety for being a pederasty advocate, he was disinvited to CPAC. Is that a free speech issue?

      • Killer Marmot

        Lots of people question Yiannopoulos’ right to free speech. We both know that.

        It’s not an abridgment of free speech to disinvite a speaker. It is an abridgment to prevent campus groups from inviting speakers, or to prevent speakers from speaking when they show up, or to prevent people from attending the talks. All of these things have happened on Berkeley and other campuses.

        • CSears

          I for one, am entirely in favor of the BCR inviting Yiannopoulos in order to hear his bigoted and pro pederasty speech. I’m a little worried about his attracting the Based Stickman types. But this is conservativism today and Berkeley students will see it for what it is. Farrakhan (a different sort of bigot) spoke and the campus survived.

          Yiannopoulos speaks for you and hopefully you’ll be there so that he can speak to you.

          • Killer Marmot

            Yiannopoulos doesn’t speak for me. Although I agree with some of his points, I find him needlessly provocative.

          • CSears

            Then perhaps he can speak to you and convince you otherwise. When you say that he’s needlessly provocative, you sound like the Berkeley profs who wanted him disinvited.

          • Killer Marmot

            Nonsense. It’s perfectly fine to criticize someone’s views or tactics. That too is free speech.

          • CSears

            And the Berkeley profs are engaging in their free speech as well in criticizing MY’s views and tactics. Sounds pretty darned similar.

          • Killer Marmot

            Yes those professors are exercising their right to free speech, and I defend their right to do so even as I denounce their views for being illiberal drek.

          • CSears

            I congratulate you for standing for MY’s free speech rights. That his views on pederasty are sufficiently execrable that CPAC would cancel his speaking shows broad mindedness on your part.

            I don’t think anyone has accused him of breaking any laws. However, does Yiannopoulos have any ideas which in a different setting and from a different speaker (basically no baggage) would be worth listening to? Best I can tell, he is only inciting and not informing. Dude, no one is quoting him.

            Lastly, no, prior restraint with respect to free speech is not disallowed. It is generally disfavored but there are national security exceptions. Pro tip: don’t get involved with one of those exceptions. Voltaire ain’t gonna come running.

          • Man with Axe

            Incitement is encouraging people on your own side to commit violence. It is not riling up opponents to attack you. Stopping speech on those grounds is a heckler’s veto, and is not permissible.

            Whether you don’t find Milo’s speech to have any positive value is beside the point. If there are people who want to hear him they are entitled to hear him. It is not a complicated issue.

            If others, such as Antifa, want to stop him they are in the wrong, both legally and morally. If they bring thugs to stop him his side is within its rights to bring thugs to protect him. And then Berkeley becomes another Charlottesville.

          • CSears

            Actually, criminal incitement doesn’t refer to a side. California Code § 404.6:

            “Every person who with the intent to cause a riot does an act or engages in conduct that urges a riot, or urges others to commit acts of force or violence, or the burning or destroying of property, and at a time and place and under circumstances that produce a clear and present and immediate danger of acts of force or violence or the burning or destroying of property, is guilty of incitement to riot.”

            For example, if you say something like y’all are too chicken to start something and that starts something, that’s incitement regardless of the fact that you’re talking to the other side. I haven’t paid that much attention but I don’t think he’s risen to the criminal level.

            As for Milo, y’all are quite entitled to hear this pederasty advocate’s speech. I’m sure you’ll come away more knowledgeable for the effort and expense. The BCR invited him and tickets will be available. This is not a complicated issue and your support for this pederasty advocate will be appreciated since he appears to have no other source of income. I encourage you to attend.

            As for us who will be protesting, no, we are neither legally nor morally wrong. We need more speech and you’ll hear it.

          • Man with Axe

            You are conflating two related but different legal concepts: incitement and fighting words. One is guilty of incitement when he urges his own side to commit a violent act, clearly and presently. If the other side gets bent out of shape because they don’t like what the speaker is saying, he is not inciting them in this sense. So, if Milo says something like, “Feminism is cancer,” and his antagonists are driven to commit violent acts against his side, that is not incitement. The reason is that allowing the other side’s violent reaction to shut him down would be a heckler’s veto, suppressing his free speech.

            If, as you suggest, he were to insult the other side that might be fighting words, a separate category of speech that can be prohibited. But fighting words must be directed at someone specifically, not merely statements that people don’t agree with.

            Anyway, why are you throwing so much shade at pederasty? You act like it’s a bad thing.

          • CSears

            Actually, I cited and quoted the California Penal Code definition of incitement.

            Yes, pederasty is a bad thing. That’s something that CPAC and I agree on. BRC, not so much.

          • Man with Axe

            You need to read the code section you quoted more carefully. It penalizes someone who “urges a riot, or urges others to commit acts of force or violence.” Merely saying things the audience finds offensive is not urging them to riot, even if you know they will have a severe negative reaction.

            If you are talking about fighting words, which are directed personally at the audience, you are not talking about incitement.

            So, for example, if a bunch of Nazis march at Berkeley spouting their racist slogans, they are not inciting the Antifa thugs to riot. Nor are they engaging in fighting words.

            The distinction is important because it cannot be incitement to simply utter words that the audience finds detestable. You have to insult them personally.

          • CSears

            You need to read what I said. The definition does not, as you said, say “encouraging people on your own side to commit violence”. It doesn’t mention a side just a result, rioting. You do not have to insult someone personally. Again, it’s just result. If your words caused a riot, you incited.

            Are we done here?

          • Man with Axe

            No, we are not done. You are simply wrong as to the meaning of these words in the law. The words, and the US. Sp. Ct’s interpretation for decades, is contrary to your position.

            Here is an example. There is a Nazi march. A bunch of Antifa, supposed anti-fascists, are counter-protesting. The Nazis engage in all sorts of their standard “Heil Hitler” salutes, and “Jews will not replace us,” and so on. The counter-protesters become incensed and violently attack the Nazis.

            It is simply wrong to assert, as you do, that the Nazis have incited the attack against them, and because their speech is labeled (by you) “incitement” it can be prevented by the authorities. This is wrong on all counts. Instead of being preventable as incitement, preventing it would actually be a heckler’s veto. Their speech must be protected, no matter how violently the opposition will respond to it.

            If you think about it for a minute, it has to be this way. Otherwise any group of violent thugs, such as Antifa, could determine on their own who gets to speak and who doesn’t by threatening to attack the speaker. This would lead to a breakdown in protection for speech across the board. I could prevent you from speaking by attacking you. See where this leads?

            Now we can be done.

          • CSears

            I AM NOT asserting that if the Nazis yelled “You will not replace us” that they are inciting, at least according to the definition in 404.6. I AM asserting (taking my above example) that if they said “y’all are too chicken to start something” and then something got started that they did incite. Both are fighting words but the second is inciting fighting words.

            You need to disagree with what I actually write.

          • Man with Axe

            You wrote these precise words: “It doesn’t mention a side just a result, rioting. You do not have to insult someone personally. Again, it’s just result. If your words caused a riot, you incited.”

            This is what I was responding to. If you meant something different, maybe we don’t really disagree that much. In your last comment you are speaking about the fighting words exception, and not the incitement exception. They are different theories with different consequences.

            Incitement is itself a punishable offense. So if a Nazi leader urges his followers to break windows and attack other people the urging itself, though it is mere words, can be punished, even before a riot starts. And of course, if there is a riot, the one doing the urging is responsible for it along with the rioters.

            If a Nazi says to some counter-protesters, to use your example, “”y’all are too chicken to start something,” that by itself is not a punishable offense. If nothing happens, there is no offense in the speech alone. If the counter-protesters respond by attacking the Nazi who made the comment, THEY and not the Nazi are guilty of criminal assault and battery, because words alone do not allow for a violent response. The Nazi could possibly be charged with disturbing the peace, inasmuch as he did add to the danger inherent in the situation. But that’s all. The riot itself is not his responsibility. HE did not incite it.

          • CSears

            Again, the penal code section doesn’t mention a side.

            In your example, the counter protesters who attacked the Nazis should be arrested for rioting. No question there. But the Nazi who made the taunt should also be arrested for incitement, not simply disturbing the peace, incitement. It doesn’t matter, the law does not care, that he was inciting his opponents rather than his allies.

            If his words *caused* the Antifa to attack then he caused the riot. Incitement. That may be difficult to prove in court but that is another matter.

          • Man with Axe

            I’m about ready to give up. One last crack at it. You are confusing the concepts of “incite” and “provoke.” Provoking a violent reaction and inciting a riot are two very different crimes with very different penalties.

            CAL. PENAL CODE – PEN
            PART 1. OF CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS [25 – 680] ( Part 1 enacted 1872. )
            TITLE 11. OF CRIMES AGAINST THE PUBLIC PEACE [403 – 420.1] ( Title 11 enacted 1872. )
            SECTION 415.
            Any of the following persons shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not more than 90 days, a fine of not more than four hundred dollars ($400), or both such imprisonment and fine:
            (1) Any person who unlawfully fights in a public place or challenges another person in a public place to fight.
            (2) Any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise.
            (3) Any person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.

          • CSears

            I assure you, I am not confusing these two words. Yes, you can provoke a violent reaction with words and that can be a crime. You can also incite a mob with words and that too can be a crime. My guess is that the difference has to do with scale but they are, as you say, different.

            However, in the second case of incite, the law DOES NOT CARE which side of the mob you are on:

            “Every person who with the intent to cause a riot does an act or engages in conduct that urges a riot, or urges others to commit acts of force or violence, or the burning or destroying of property, and at a time and place and under circumstances that produce a clear and present and immediate danger of acts of force or violence or the burning or destroying of property, is guilty of incitement to riot.”

            The law does not care (nor should it) whether you say “burn the villains” or “y’all are too chicken to start something”. It only cares whether your words started a riot.