Well, here we go again. Consider this post a sequel to my earlier post: Yes, You Still Have “Freedom of Speech” (even if you get fired or boycotted) If you’re reading this, please read that first, if you haven’t already. I’ll wait.
Well, far too many people are still operating under the mistaken belief that “freedom of speech” means you have the right to say whatever you want whenever and wherever you want and no one can ever try to convince other people to stop listening to you or refuse to give you a platform to speak.
Nope, that’s not what “freedom of speech” means. So let’s try this one more time for the slow children in the back.
Bill Maher is an alleged comedian who hosts an hour-long talk show called Real Time With Bill Maher Friday nights on HBO. Recently he had been invited to give a commencement speech at UC Berkeley, only to then be dis-invited by the university sometime later. This appears to be due to a series of controversial remarks Bill Maher has made in recent months. He brought this up on last week’s show, declaring his dis-invite from Berkeley as some kind of huge affront to “free speech,” proclaiming that “Liberals are supposed to be for free speech!”
And I’ve seen articles defending him, including one I remember which warned against making Bill Maher a “martyr over free speech.” But the only one trying to make Bill Maher a martyr is Bill Maher himself. This has NOTHING to do with free speech. And it really isn’t about Bill Maher either (despite his best efforts to make it so), which is why I’m purposely being vague about the details of what started this controversy. You can go do a quick Google-search if you must, but I’m going to try to address this without focusing too much on him, because that can be distracting, and just turn this into a debate between fan and non-fans of Bill Maher. But I say that whether or not you like or dislike Bill Maher or agree or disagree with his views, this is a bigger issue. And my opinion would be exactly the same regardless of who this was about. It could be someone I hate or someone I love. Either way I stand with UC Berkeley’s decision.
First, once again, no one is being threatened with jail over what they say. The government is not banning anyone from speaking at the university. If so, THAT would be a violation of free speech. But instead, this is the university itself making the decision that inviting a particular individual to speak at this ceremony might be offensive to a significant number of the students who will be in attendance, and therefor changing their plans. That’s their right.
But some people, in the name of “free speech”, try to argue that he be allowed to speak, because otherwise that’s “censorship,” or “political correctness”, and they say things like “Instead of trying to stop him from speaking, you should engage him. Don’t shut him up, challenge his ideas, that’s what free speech is about!
And you know what? If he’d just been invited to give a speech at the campus as a separate event, I’d completely agree with that. Students can then choose whether or not they want to attend his speech, and then engage him. Heck, invite him to the campus for a formal debate, with someone who can challenge his views on that subject! That would be fine. But this is Commencement Ceremony. There won’t be any debate there (nor should there be). It’s an event that’s supposed to be celebrating the achievements of these students who are graduating. This should be a proud moment, with their classmates and families. And have a commencement speaker whom inspires them.
So what are the students who are offended by this person supposed to do? On their special day they would be the ones who would have to make the choice to either skip this ceremony, or go but be forced to sit there listening to someone they find offensive? How is that fair to them? That’s the important issue here.
Bill Maher still has his weekly TV show which people can choose to watch. He can still go on tour and perform in front of people who choose to pay to see him. No one is restricting his right to speak, but he does not have the right to demand any particular platform from anyone. Sorry, but that’s not how “free speech” works.