Conservative commentator Shapiro banned from DePaul
DePaul University has banned Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator, from entering the school’s campus to give a speech.
DePaul University’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter had invited Shapiro, but the university told the chapter that he would not be permitted on school grounds because of security concerns.
“As a private university, DePaul does not have to abide by the First Amendment,” Kate Barrows of the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said.
DePaul is the nation’s largest Catholic university with 23,539 students. According to it website, the university is dedicated to inclusiveness and serving others, and has more than 45 centers and institutes focused on social justice.
Barrows said that although it is a private institution, DePaul “promises students the ‘right to their own ideas, beliefs and political associations,’ and the ‘right to ask questions and express their opinions.’”
Those rights, Barrows said, looking at a reasonable reading of DePaul’s free speech commitments, should include the right of student organizations to invite speakers of their choosing to campus.
“Forcing a group to disinvite a chosen speaker runs strongly counter to those commitments,” Barrows said.
FIRE believes that Shapiro had a right to speak at DePaul.
“Due to DePaul’s advertisement of a strong commitment to free speech to current and potential students, student groups have the right to invite Shapiro, and Shapiro as their invited speaker should have a right to speak,” Barrows said.
Upon finding out of his revoked invitation, Shapiro took to Twitter on Aug. 1 to say, “So, I’ve been banned from DePaul. Because they’re cowards.”
Barrows said FIRE is “deeply skeptical” anytime universities use safety and security concerns to justify suppressing speech. She said if there were substantial worries about the possibility of disruption or unrest at DePaul if Shapiro or any other speaker is present, then the university should make sure those concerns don’t prevent the speaker from engaging in his or her right to free expression.
“Claims of the sort DePaul is making often stem from real or perceived hostility to a speaker’s viewpoints; and all DePaul accomplishes by claiming it can’t guarantee Shapiro’s safety is to signal to others that if they voice enough opposition to a speaker, they’ll be able to keep the speaker off campus,” Barrows said. She called that the “heckler’s veto” and said that it’s fundamentally opposed to the principals of free expression.
A statement released by the Young Americans Foundation said if DePaul does not reverse its decision to ban Shapiro, the college must immediately remove any claim to supporting free speech and expression from its website and marketing materials, or risk becoming a “fraudulent laughingstock.”
This isn’t the first time a college has blocked Shapiro from speaking.
At California State University-Los Angeles last February, the school attempted to block him, but he appeared on campus anyway. Protesters pulled a fire alarm and blocked doors to his speaking event, and police had to escort him off campus for his safety.
Barrows said that FIRE is not aware of whether Shapiro has plans to show up at DePaul.
“It shouldn't have to come to that, though,” Barrows said. “What DePaul should do is work with student groups to ensure they are able to bring their guest speakers to campus and that hostility to their message isn’t an acceptable justification for censorship."