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The University of Wisconsin ‘protects’ free speech – by limiting free speech

The University of Wisconsin pass policy banning heckling at speeches.

Rich debate over free speech continues in the United States, as the University of Wisconsin bans heckling during speeches.

Students at the university will face suspension or even expulsion if they intentionally disrupt “the free expression of others”.

The policy attempts to protect the free speech of people with opposing views and hopes to promote listening and acceptance on campus.

Only days before, a study conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) concluded that 58 per cent of US college students value a safe and inclusive campus culture over free speech.

A further 56 percent of students advocate uninviting a guest speaker if their views are deemed problematic.

However, the university feels this attitude can create an echo chamber scenario.

“Perhaps the most important thing we can do as a university is to teach students how to engage and listen to those with whom they differ,” President Ray Cross at the University of Wisconsin said when proposing the policy.

“If we don’t show students how to do this, who will? Without civil discourse and a willingness to listen and engage with different voices, all we are doing is reinforcing our existing values.”

But the university’s attempt to protect free speech by limiting free speech was criticised for being hypocritical.

“Did it ever occur to University of Wisconsin’s board of regents that heckling itself is a form of free speech? The policy explicitly reaffirms a commitment to free speech yet says members of the community cannot interfere with others’ right to ‘express views they reject or even loathe’,” said The Daily Californian.

“These restrictions would effectively turn college campuses into safe spaces for bigoted speech, actively muffling students threatened by the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos.”

The policy was made after the right wing complained they were not granted the same level of respect as liberal thinkers. Regardless of the fact 42 percent of students said the First Amendment should not protect hate speech that includes intolerant language in the FIRE study, the university argued students should listen to all sides of the argument.

But The Daily Californian dispute the principle for silencing students’ right to protest.

Tyler Brandt, the president of Young Americans for Liberty at UW-Madison, responded to The Daily Californian in Campus Reform, saying the editorial is not only a “misrepresentation of the language of the policy” but simply wrong about the nature of individual rights.

“The university has a long-standing tradition of protesting and that is not the problem. In fact, there was a ‘cocks not glocks’ protest here last Tuesday, which was carried out peacefully and correctly,” Brandt noted. He added the new policy is intended to address the type of disruptive protests that took place at a recent Ben Shapiro event and “is not aimed at peaceful protesters”.

There is clearly tension surrounding what constitutes free speech and where the line should be drawn. But wherever it is drawn for now, it will soon be washed away by the ever-changing political waves of the US, leaving the fresh sand of conflicting ideas.

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