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Professor denounces Catholic university for banning Ben Shapiro

Martin M. Barillas Martin M. Barillas Follow Martin

SPOKANE, Washington, January 18, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – When pro-life conservative Ben Shapiro was denied permission to speak at Jesuit-run Gonzaga University, Professor Cornell Clayton of nearby Washington State University questioned the Jesuit institution’s devotion to freedom of speech and expression.

In an op-ed for Spokane’s Spokesman-Review, the professor wrote: “We should never prevent expression simply because we believe certain ideas are wrong, offensive, or heretical. Nor should protesters or hecklers be allowed to prevent speakers on campus.”

Clayton is the Thomas S. Foley Distinguished Professor of Government and director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State.

Shapiro, a conservative pundit and outspoken Jewish defender of preborn babies, has been assailed by progressive and anti-Semitic opponents for his conservative politics and stance on life issues. Gonzaga University recently kept Shapiro from speaking on campus, arguing that his  “appearances routinely draw protests that include extremely divisive and hateful speech and behavior, which is offensive to many people.”

Shapiro has denied the university’s rejection, vowing to speak there regardless. A similar attempt by Gonzaga to ban film-maker and author Dinesh D’Souza failed two years ago.

Clayton stated that while he believes some pundits, such as author Ann Coulter, media personality Milo Yiannopoulos, and Shapiro, are more interested in provoking responses than debate, he said institutions of higher learning should defend the right to free speech despite concerns over offending some students. “(A)ll universities, public and private, should recognize that suppressing ideas runs contrary to their core mission of promoting inquiry, discovery and the dissemination of knowledge,” Clayton wrote.

“The First Amendment prohibits public universities from restricting speech when it falls short of harassment, intimidation or threats of violence. Reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on speech are permitted, but these must be viewpoint neutral and aim at the orderly expression of ideas rather than suppression,” he continued.

“Private colleges do not face similar strictures under the First Amendment, but all universities, public and private, should recognize that suppressing ideas runs contrary to their core mission of promoting inquiry, discovery and the dissemination of knowledge. That mission requires unfettered thought and expression,” he added.

Writing that history has been marked by “individuals … who risked lives and careers to promote ideas considered absurd or heretical at the time but which later turned out to be true,” Clayton said it is nearly impossible to define ideas that should be censored. Universities, he wrote, should “make students safe for ideas, not ideas safe for students.”

Colleges and universities, Clayton wrote, can defend freedom of expression while not endorsing offensive messages. They can permit speakers to come on campus, but “should not support, financially or otherwise, speakers who seek to insult or offend rather than inform and educate. Campus leaders should speak out against hateful speech on and off campus … ”

“The way to defeat bad ideas is to engage them and counter them with better ones,” Clayton said in an allusion to the theory of the marketplace of ideas. “We should help student groups to understand the difference between free speech and effective speech … success is more likely to come through thoughtful and respectful dialogue than through offensive stunts and divisive rhetoric.”

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