The state of free speech on California state campuses

Shutting down free speech seems to be a growing epidemic on university campuses across the country.  California universities, in particular, have a less-than-stellar track record.

That’s why it was so (pleasantly) shocking when it was announced that Ben Shapiro, a conservative columnist, will be speaking at the University of California, Berkeley in September–even though it did take some prodding for Berkeley officials to relent. The Young America’s Foundation (YAF) and the Berkeley College Republicans invited Shapiro to “bring ideological diversity” back to a campus, after other events these groups tried hosting this spring were canceled.

You would think hearing a variety of viewpoints on a public university would not make the headlines, but universities like Berkeley still have much more learning on what truly resembles the “marketplace of ideas.”

And while this looks like progress for Berkeley, it’s the California State University System that still seems to be struggling with the First Amendment, given the many times that Alliance Defending Freedom has taken legal action against the school system.

Let us look back at Spring of 2016, where this same speaker, Ben Shapiro, was invited by YAF to speak at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA). Ironically, Shapiro was scheduled to speak at a free speech event, when university officials tried to stop the event – first by charging a high security fee, then outright cancelling the event. YAF decided to move forward with the event anyway. But only some of the students made it safely in the room to listen; Shapiro spoke to a half-empty room. The campus faculty had helped organize a mob to block people from attending the lecture, and administrators ordered the police not to interfere with that mob.

Thankfully, this has not deterred the speaker or YAF from fighting back for free speech as they worked with ADF to file a lawsuit. In light of the lawsuit, the university dropped several of its discriminatory speech policies and practices.

It’s not the first time ADF has taken legal action to protect student rights on CSU campuses. We have filed suit against San Francisco State University and San Diego State University in the past.

With two more ongoing cases, it’s not the last time either:

Students for Life at Cal State-San Marcos v. Abrego

At California State University-San Marcos, a pro-life student group invited conservative speaker Mike Adams to speak on campus and applied for a small grant from their mandatory student fees to help fund the speaker. The university denied the group their request for $500 in funding while pro-abortion and other favored views were granted nearly $300,000 in mandatory fees.

Fresno State Students for Life v. Thatcher

At Fresno State University, students’ chalk messages were erased by a professor (and students from his class) who objected to their pro-life message. While erasing the messages, he proclaimed that “college campuses are not free speech areas.”

Unfortunately, these cases are not unique. That’s why ADF will continue to work to uphold the rights of students on campuses across the country. Public universities should never be able to exclude certain viewpoints and promote others. And we cannot let university students leave their campuses thinking this is how the Constitution works – that constitutional rights can be taken away at the whim of a campus official.