Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky says there ‘isn’t a line’ between hate speech, free speech

Anissa Nishioka/File

Related Posts

UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky spoke about free speech on college campuses to a crowd of students, alumni and other Berkeley community members Tuesday evening.

In his talk at Morrison Library, Chemerinsky addressed what the First Amendment protects and to whom it applies. As an example, Chemerinsky pointed to how the First Amendment only applies to government but not to private entities like the National Football League.

The event, which was part of an annual Constitution Day event organized by campus librarians, had been rescheduled from Sept. 26 to Tuesday evening after the event dates for Milo Yiannopoulos’s now-canceled “Free Speech Week” event were announced, according to Jean Ferguson, chair of the Free Speech Movement Educational Programs Committee, which hosted the event.

The three types of unprotected speech relevant to college campuses include incitement of illegal activity, “true threats” and harassment, according to Chemerinsky. What’s not included on the list, he said, is hate speech, which is therefore protected.

“So many people have asked me what the line between hate speech and free speech is. There isn’t a line,” Chemerinsky said.

Disruption, however, is a separate issue for him. While the “best remedy” for hate speech is more speech, Chemerinsky said, disrupting a speaker is not protected by the First Amendment.

Chancellor Carol Christ, who opened the talk, expressed similar opinions, explaining some of the challenges the campus faced with outside groups using UC Berkeley as a “stage” and with decisions about the time, place and rules.

“Obviously … we don’t want to see the disruption of … our mission: education of students,” Christ said.

Not everyone who attended, however, agreed with Chemerinsky’s ideas, such as Revolution Books employee Gina Lee, who attended the talk. Lee criticized the campus for creating a platform to invite speakers like Yiannopoulos, conservative political commentator Ann Coulter and Breitbart editor Steve Bannon to campus for Free Speech Week.

“The university should have stood up to that and said, ‘no, we don’t want them to come here and spew hateful, violent speech and program,’” Lee said.

Some also expressed concerns about outside groups coming to campus. Berkeley resident Louise Francis, who also attended the talk, said she was worried about the potential for “certain groups” to “hold the campus hostage” in the name of the First Amendment.

“Violence is never protected by the Constitution,” Chemerinsky said during the event. “Safety has to be paramount.”

Contact Matthew Lo at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @matthewlo_dc.

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy
  • zzz

    After all the persecution of communists in this country I have to wonder if our communist is a historical illiterate or just has a massive entitlement issue? In any case ignore, local communists have born again Christian level thinking skills.

  • Rollie

    Revolution Books employee Gina Lee might be forgiven her mis-guided stance against free speech, recently having been thuggishly harassed by a swarm of campus dipsh*ts. But emotional arguments are out of place, despite the alarmingly prevalent belief among students that feelings trump Constitutional rights. The First Amendment is necessarily dispassionate, and its protections unconcerned with the relative quality of any argument, nor with the feelings engendered by the exercise of speech. Hate is no exception, and it has to be that way in a free society.

    Chemerinsky and other have said it well: The best remedy for hate speech is more speech.

  • roccolore

    The same fascist left who hate Milo have no problem with Islamists, Jew-haters, Communists, terror apologists, black supremacists, or Mexican supremacists.

    • Bird of Prey

      Seems as thought they’re all graduates of the Hollywood School of Relativism.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      I have problems with all those people, including Milo. But I don’t think any of them should have their speech restricted unless it meets the specific tests of incitement.

    • shawn_non_anonymous

      What is an “Islamist?”

      • California Defender

        Good question, Berkeleyite!

        There are things called “dictionaries” which list words and their meanings. I understand that such resources are quite rare at Berkeley, so I will kindly help you.

        One, published by a little-known British university called Oxford, reports that an Islamist is “An advocate or supporter of Islamic militancy or fundamentalism.”

        You’re welcome!