Once bastions of free speech, campuses now stifle students

We conservatives have long been reviled by the left for what they believe is our deplorable lack of tolerance for, well, just about everything. Our apparent aversion to freedom of speech, in particular, consistently falls near the top of that lengthy list.

The inconvenient truth, however, is that it’s conservative speech that’s increasingly under attack, and nowhere is that more evident than on our college campuses. Case in point: the assault on March 4 against pro-life demonstrators at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

In case you haven’t heard the story — and if you follow only mainstream media news, you likely haven’t — UCSB feminist-studies professor Mireille Miller-Young allegedly stole a large graphic image from a pro-life display before assaulting one of the young demonstrators who attempted to retrieve it. The demonstrators — 16-year-old Thrin Short, her 21-year-old sister Joan and about a dozen others — were in the school’s designated free-speech zone peacefully handing out literature when the incident took place.

One might think a college instructor whose specialties include black cultural studies, pornography and sex work might have some regard for the First Amendment, but the professor reportedly led a group of students in a chant to “tear down this sign” before snatching it and carting it away. What she probably hadn’t counted on was the tenacity of the savvy Short sisters, who pursued Miller-Young and her entourage while recording the incident on a cell phone.

The video, which is getting its share of views on YouTube, captures a smug and smiling Miller-Young taunting the demonstrators, calling them “terrorists” and forcefully barring them from retrieving their sign. In a crime report released by UCSB police, an unrepentant Miller-Young said her actions were “triggered” by the poster’s graphic image. She also admitted taking and destroying the sign, saying, “I’m stronger, so I was able to take the poster.”

The Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office has charged the professor with theft, battery, and vandalism, all misdemeanors. She pled not guilty and will go before the court again on May 1.

The incident sent the professor’s supporters scrambling for excuses: The demonstrators aren’t UCSB students; the graphic image was upsetting; the professor is pregnant, etc. These are excuses a high school sophomore with even a rudimentary understanding of our Bill of Rights would be too embarrassed to repeat.

David Hacker, senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit legal organization that defends religious liberty, called the incident “a perfect example of the leftist orthodoxy that dominates most public university campuses.”

“That’s an orthodoxy that doesn’t want to hear other viewpoints,” Hacker said. “More often than not, faculty and administrations try to silence pro-life speakers, when it should be about free speech rights and protecting student safety.”

The UCSB incident notwithstanding, most cases of viewpoint discrimination against students are more subtle, but no less intimidating. I recently heard from 19-year-old Jessica Laurente of Bakersfield, now a freshman at Fresno State. It seems her women’s studies professor was none too happy with Jessica’s choice of pro-life as the topic for her final class paper. The guidelines given by the professor were only that the topic relates to women, but when Jessica submitted her preference in writing it was returned with the terse reply “needs to be pro-choice.”

“When I asked her why I couldn’t write about pro-life, she said she didn’t accept pro-life papers because pro-life isn’t pro-woman,” Jessica said. “I asked her if she had refused any other students’ topics and she said she hadn’t.”

It takes considerable grit for students to stand up to those running the school and doling out the grades. Jessica contacted the head of the women’s studies department for further discussion, but is still waiting to hear back. Something tells me she’s got a long wait.

In the meantime, Jessica, you might want to give David Hacker a call. He’d love to hear from you.

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