UF Cancels Richard Spencer Event, UC Berkeley to Host Ben Shapiro

UF President Kent Fuchs had previously emphasized that the event was not affiliated with the university or any student-run organizations.

UF Cancels Richard Spencer Event, UC Berkeley to Host Ben Shapiro

The cancellation of some controversial speakers has raised questions regarding suppression of the First Amendment.

College officials across the country are preparing for a potential slew of protests and violence as controversial speakers continue to host events on campuses. Some plan to move forward with their scheduled events while others are choosing to cancel.

On Wednesday, the University of Florida announced its decision to cancel a scheduled September 12 appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer, citing “serious concerns” about safety following the deadly weekend protests in Charlottesville.

University president Kent Fuchs says the decision was made after consulting with campus, state, local and federal law enforcement officials about the potential risks, reports LRN.

It was previously reported that University of Florida regulations say non-university organizations can rent space on campus as long as they pay for both rental and security fees.

“I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for,” says Fuchs’ statement. “That said, the University of Florida remains unwaveringly dedicated to free speech and the spirit of public discourse. However, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others. The likelihood of violence and potential injury — not the words or ideas — has caused us to take this action.”

Because the university is public, the school can’t make rental space unavailable based on the opinions or views of those willing to pay the fees.

First Amendment Lawyer Tom Julin says the decision to impede Spencer from speaking at the public university could increase friction between protesters.

“Certainly, the university is going to be targeted by whoever they disappointed, so it’s a troubling decision that they’re making, to me,” says Julin. “I think that is the sort of decision that the white supremacists will use to their advantage to try to criticize the university from stopping them from speaking.”

Julin also says that the school’s inability to manage potential violence can be taken into consideration regarding the First Amendment rights of prospective speakers.

“But I would not be surprised to see that decision challenged. There obviously was a very serious incident in Charlottesville, but then to conclude from that that the particular awful controversial view is not going to be allowed to speak in the future is a very difficult position to sustain,” says Julin. “But these are unusual times, and we have an unusual president and the concerns about violence are legitimate. It will be unfortunate if this does exacerbate the tensions that already exist.”

Ben Shapiro to Speak at UC Berkeley

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, UC Berkeley is scheduled to host Republican media personality Ben Shapiro on September 14.

Shapiro, a former writer for Breitbart, a far-right American news website, was invited to the campus by Berkeley College Republicans (BCR), a university-sanctioned organization. He will be hosted in Zellerbach Hall which holds around 2,000 people.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ says the school has decided to waive the room fees out of a commitment to free speech after the cancellation of another BCR-hosted event.

Back in February, far-right speaker Milo Yiannopoulos’ scheduled anti-illegal immigration speech was canceled after crowds of protesters descended on the campus, causing an estimated $100,000 in damage.

BCR filed a lawsuit against the school, alleging suppression of freedom of speech.

The university says that its actions were legal because BCR did not follow protocol that comes with hosting a speaker.

Christ says the school will not pay for future BCR events and the group will still need to pay for the security costs that will come with hosting Shapiro, reports Berkeley Side.

Prior to Shapiro’s appearance, the university is hosting events and discussions about free speech with the intent to discuss concerns surrounding both the school’s actions and the effects of hosting controversial speakers.

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About the Author

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Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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