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ACLU’s diminishing interest in free speech marks a foreboding shift in American culture

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So, I may not be welcome in Canada.

According to the University of British Columbia (UBC) student newspaper, student Reid Marcus encouraged the UBC Needs Feminism Facebook group to write to the university’s provost, academic vice president and equity offices to protest an upcoming speaking engagement. Marcus, suggested that my words might violate the British Columbia Human Rights Code – particularly its sections on discriminatory publication. The BC Human Rights Code states, in relevant part: “A person must not publish, issue or display, or cause to be published, issued or displayed, any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that … is likely to expose a person or a group or class of persons to hatred or contempt.”

{mosads}Since I advocate for controversial propositions – for example, the proposition that men cannot magically become women no matter how much they believe they are women – I would purportedly be in violation of the code.


Now, that’s a controversial legal proposition. Unfortunately, it’s not a controversial political proposition among large segments of the political left. That’s true in Canada, where Jordan Peterson has been fighting back against Ontario’s bill C-16, which carries much of the same language as the BC Human Rights Code.

Now, we in America don’t have to worry about such things, presumably. While I’m protested on a wide variety of campuses (nearly all of them), quasi-rioted against at a few (California State University of Los Angeles), and banned from a small number (DePaul University), there’s little doubt that the First Amendment covers my free speech rights. And that’s been a consensus view among liberals and conservatives. Just last year, even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ripped into Antifa for “inciting violence or endangering the public” and, in 2015, President Obama admonished leftist students to “feel free to disagree with somebody, but don’t try to just shut them up.”

But now it seems that the gap between the hard left and American liberals is closing. Fast.

This week, an internal ACLU memo showed that the famed civil rights organization was making protection of the First Amendment a secondary concern, balancing it instead with issues of “racial justice, reproductive freedom, or a myriad of other rights, where the content of the speech we seek to protect conflicts with our policies on those matters, and/or otherwise is directed at menacing vulnerable groups of individuals.”

This is stunning language. This is the group that once defended Nazis marching in Skokie, Ill., under the terms of the First Amendment, and won. The ACLU website brags, “The notoriety of the case caused some ACLU members to resign, but to many others the case has come to represent the ACLU’s unwavering commitment to principle.” Yet, now the ACLU would presumably decline the case, stating that it might be too damaging to their other social justice priorities.

The ACLU even announced that if a First Amendment speaker were to carry a gun, they would preemptively refrain from defending that speaker. Former board member Wendy Kaminer writes in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, “The speech-case guidelines reflect a demotion of free speech in the ACLU’s hierarchy of values … Faced with perceived conflicts between freedom of speech and ‘progress toward equality,’ the ACLU is likely to choose equality. If the Supreme Court adopted the ACLU’s balancing test, it would greatly expand government power to restrict speech.”

The threat to free speech in America is real, and it is growing. Right now, legal protections for speech remain strong, thanks to a robust First Amendment jurisprudence. But as our culture surrounding free speech changes – as we determine that certain views ought not be expressed not because of their lack of truth, but because they hurt particular feelings – that culture will eventually result in legal restriction. Canada’s already there. And the defection of the ACLU is an indicator that America isn’t all that far behind.

Ben Shapiro (@BenShapiro), a lawyer and conservative commentator, is founder and editor in chief of The Daily Wire. The author of seven books, he hosts a daily political podcast, “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

Tags ACLU American Civil Liberties Union Ben Shapiro First Amendment to the United States Constitution Freedom of speech Nancy Pelosi

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