Students who threaten the “heckler’s veto” to prevent free speech on campus will no longer be able to do so at the University of Illinois.
The University of Illinois system is enforcing a new statement of principles on Friday that expressly prohibits student activists from shutting down events with protests and threats of violence.
The statement is intended to be a guide for preparations and enforcement of the university system’s existing rules, which have been violated multiple times over the past semester.
“An unyielding allegiance to freedom of speech—even controversial, contentious, and unpopular speech—is indispensable to developing the analytical and communication skills of our students and empowering all members of our university communities to be active and informed citizens,” the document states, prefacing measures intended to safeguard the First Amendment.
Campus Reform reported today that the university system vows to “vigorously and even-handedly protect community members against conduct that falls outside the First Amendment—including true threats, pervasive harassment, incitement to imminent lawless action, and libel—regardless of whether that illegal conduct happens to be undertaken for expressive purposes,” adding that disruptive conduct will not be tolerated.
“We welcome and encourage members to respond to speech with which they disagree by engaging in counter-speech of their own,” the document continues. “But we will not condone shouting down or physically obstructing or threatening a speaker or the speaker’s audience.”
“Such activities are antithetical to the primary value on which freedom of speech rests: a commitment to the power of ideas rather than the use of force to influence the way people think and act,” it states.
During the past semester, the University of Illinois faced multiple instances of the heckler’s veto. In In one instance, students forced a temporary shutdown of the school’s Homecoming parade. I separate instance, a woman who was later identified as a school employee disrupted a College Republicans meeting, as reported by Campus Reform.
In February, a mob of Antifa activists staged violent demonstrations on the campus grounds of the University of California, Berkeley, where MILO was scheduled to speak, ultimately shutting it down before it had a chance to go on.
When it happened again in April to Ann Coulter, the ACLU publicly decried the actions of protesters, calling it a “loss for the first amendment.” “We must protect speech on campus, even when hateful,” the organization wrote.
Speaking to the News-Gazette, University of Illinois President Tim Killeen stated that the school will be turning to the aid of campus police, student affairs staff, and others to deal with enforcement, which he says will be meted out “based on the context.”
“The so-called ‘heckler’s veto,’ we’re not going to condone on campus, no matter how egregious some of the speech might be felt by the listening community,” said Killeen.
Photograph courtesy of Sunny Ture.