The Riggs Report: When free speech is no longer free

April 27, 2017

Ann Coulter cancels her UC Berkeley appearance due to safety concerns

It came as no surprise this week when conservative speaker Ann Coulter announced to media outlets that she would no longer appear on the UC Berkeley campus for a planned speech, backing away from her earlier insistence that she would show up despite prospects of violent protests.

Coulter indicated that the last straw came when her original sponsors, the Berkeley College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation, withdrew their support in the face of an increasingly hostile and tense atmosphere.

Coulter is an extremely provocative and partisan figure, so mustering any sympathy for her is difficult. She will continue to sell books and will find other venues to deliver her opinions. But the idea of censorship should be alarming to anyone who cares about free speech rights.

Berkeley, which fostered the Free Speech Movement, would seem to be an unlikely place to reverse course on the idea of listening to different points of view. But the atmosphere has changed as part of a growing political divide.

Earlier this year, UC Berkeley canceled the appearance of another controversial figure, former Breitbart staffer Milo Yiannopoulos, due to violent protests. The same thing happened at UC Davis.

It’s important to note that Berkeley officials had actually offered to host Coulter on a different date at an indoor venue where security would have been more manageable. She declined the offer.

What appears to be developing at Berkeley is a playing field where opponents are not interested in traditional protest methods, but of actively seeking to bloody the other side.

That’s why campus police had been prepared to bring in large numbers of reinforcements in a show of force and at significant cost.

With Coulter’s retreat, that is no longer an issue. But it’s a slippery slope when controversial speech is no longer allowed on either the right or the left, especially on college campuses where tolerance is supposed to be a prized value.