Berkeley Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky speaks at Senate Judiciary hearing on free speech

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Audrey McNamara/File

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The California Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary held a hearing about free speech Tuesday morning, citing recent events regarding free speech on college campuses.

The hearing, called “Combatting Hate While Protecting the Constitution,” featured a variety of experts, including UC Berkeley School of Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky and individuals from communities in California that have been impacted by hate speech. Conservative author Ben Shapiro also briefly spoke during public comment for the hearing.

Chemerinsky spoke at the beginning of the hearing to provide a background of free speech in the United States and its relationship with hate speech. He covered five main points, saying that while free speech is protected in all forms, including hate speech, there are exceptions to the rule that arise when harassment or real, imminent danger is caused by the speech.

“There should be first amendment rights for everyone, regardless of opinion, but it shouldn’t put other people’s safety at risk,” said Joseph Villela, one of the speakers on the panel and director of policy of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.

Milo Yiannopoulous’ and Shapiro’s recent appearances on campus were also discussed during the hearing.

“There’s speech I don’t like and there’s speech you don’t like,” Shapiro said during the public comment section of the hearing. “But if we can’t agree that there’s a difference between speech and violence, we’re not going to be able to have a free state, let alone a free country.”

The chair of the committee, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, concluded the hearing by saying that the committee will consider introducing legislation to promote education on free speech. Berkeley Police Department Chief Andrew Greenwood also spoke at the hearing, among other law enforcement, who have dealt with the protests regarding hate speech and free speech rights.

“The only way that our free speech can be protected tomorrow, is to safeguard the speech we don’t like today,” Chemerinsky said during the hearing.

Contact Phil Zhang at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @philzhangDC.

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  • Killer Marmot

    “There should be first amendment rights for everyone, regardless of opinion, but it shouldn’t put other people’s safety at risk”

    Depends. Where is this risk coming from? If the danger is coming from those who are trying to shut down speech then it’s imperative that free speech be protected no matter what, for the alternative is to reward violence and encourage even more censorship.

    • KrakenFartz

      Those who wish to use force shut down free speech claim that that their actions are justified on the grounds that they are acting proportionately and appropriately in response to acts of aggressive violence. They characterize speech that they disagree with as causing ‘vulnerable’ people to feel ‘unsafe’ and ‘excluded’, thus causing intense mental distress directly equivalent to being physically attacked.

      The difference is that while physical violence is objective and measurable, the grounds for mental distress are purely subjective. Because of this subjectivity, they are effectively writing themselves a moral blank check which permits them to deem anything they chose as being ‘violence’ and to respond to it with any level of violence.

      I do agree that uniquely vulnerable people ought to be protected, but the common ground stops there. Appropriate protection should involve padded cells, strong anti-psychotics, and gentle muzak tinkling in the background, not weaponized bike locks, cudgels disguised as flag-poles, and draconian, but profoundly ill-defined legislation.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    Shapiro is right on target. There is a demonstrable difference between violence and speech. Certain segments of the left wish to elide that difference in order to silence what they don’t want to hear (to be fair, certain segments of the right want that too, just with different things).

    Personally, I’m completely sick and tired of people who want to install a utopia, to “make the world a better place” whether or not the rest of us agree, who confuse personal preference with objective morality. A pox on self-proclaimed do-gooders and social reformists; if they really loved humanity, they’d treat people better.

    • zzz

      The people who say “we are all in this together” mean “we are all in this together on my terms.”

  • zzz

    I love the “I’m for free speech but” people, you’re not for free speech, Joseph is not for free speech.