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Free speech at Berkeley be damned, as threats of violence seem to perpetually haunt the home of the Free Speech Movement.
The University of California at Berkeley said Wednesday that the school is canceling a planned speech by conservative firebrand Ann Coulter because of safety concerns, reports the Washington Post (WaPo).
University officials wrote a letter to the Republican group that invited Coulter to speak saying that they made the decision to cancel Coulter’s appearance after assessing the violence that flared on campus in February, when the same college Republican group invited right-wing provocateur and now-former Breitbart News senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos to speak, according to WaPo.
Coulter commented on the situation via email to WaPo explaining that the university had been trying to force her to cancel her speech by “imposing ridiculous demands” on her but that she still agreed “to all of their silly requirements.” She said she believes that her speech “has been unconstitutionally banned” by the “public, taxpayer-supported UC-Berkeley.”
The conservative provocateur continued on to say that the university insisted that her speech take place in the middle of the day, that only students could attend and that the exact venue wouldn’t be announced until the last minute. She said that she agreed with the conditions but that that apparently wasn’t good enough.
“They just up and announced that I was prohibited from speaking anyway,” Coulter said, noting that her speech topic was to be immigration, the subject of one of her books. “I feel like the Constitution is important and that taxpayer-supported universities should not be using public funds to violate American citizens’ constitutional rights.”
According to WaPo, the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative group which was helping to organize the event, mentioned that Coulter had made demands of her own, which included expelling any students engaging in violence. In her email, Coulter said she is still planning to give her speech, and YAF spokesman Spencer Brown said she has told them that she plans to appear at Berkeley on April 27.
“If Berkeley wants to have free speech, they are going to get it,” Brown said.
A university spokesman said the school has not been in direct contact with Coulter but conveyed its concerns with the student group that invited her. He said the university was especially concerned that holding the event in the late afternoon would risk protests and potential violence stretching into the evening when the area would get crowded with commuters and students, according to WaPo.
“Everything we’re doing is so the speaker and students can actually exercise their rights without disruption,” Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said. “It’s unfortunate that there are people who think the university’s efforts to keep students and the speaker herself safe are ‘silly.’ ”
The university has said that it hopes to be able to reschedule Coulter’s event for sometime in September, and they emphasized that they are not canceling her event because of her controversial nature or sharply conservative views, reports WaPo.
“It has nothing to do with anyone’s political views. We believe in unqualified support to the First Amendment. But we also have an unqualified focus on safety of our students,” Mogulof said. “We are going to be making a concerted effort to explain the reasons behind this.”
Officials learned of Coulter’s event, the letter said, from reading about it in newspapers. And after consulting with university police, officials said, they could not find a venue available on that date that would allow them to protect Coulter, the audience and bystanders, said WaPo.