Heckler’s Veto Hits 1st Amendment Rights AGAIN!

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Express confirms it has written to Washington College after officials there allowed an incident to develop in which threatening protesters were able to shut down a speech by someone whose perspectives they disliked.

The college managers had warned students before the event that those disrupting the meeting would be in violation of the school’s honor code and then said, after the fact, that the disruption was “not consistent with the core values of the liberal arts to which Washington College is committed.”

However, according to FIRE, “Simply issuing warnings and post hoc condemnations when disruptions proved those warnings were toothless is not enough.”

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That is why, the foundation explained, it wrote the school “urging it to educate employees, and especially security staff, about their obligation to enforce the college’s speaker policies that promise it will intervene to ensure expressive events proceed on campus as planned.”

That means, FIRE explained, “This requires understanding exactly when students’ peaceful protest—which is protected speech and should always be allowed on campus—crosses the line into unprotected misconduct, as it did here.”

The dispute focuses on what’s known as the heckler’s veto, during which protesters are so disruptive, so threatening, so loud that the message being delivered by a speaker cannot continue.

“None of this, of course, negates the need to equally protect peaceful protest, or that not even all protest during a speech is sufficiently disruptive to warrant intervention,” the foundation said. “For example, protesters who hold signs in the back of an auditorium, or offer fleeting commentary, are unlikely to be so disruptive as to prevent an event from proceeding.

“But when the event cannot proceed as planned because protesters talk over speakers, drown them out with other sounds, or cause other disruptions that substantially impeded the ability to deliver remarks, Washington College must use the resources at its disposal to prevent this pernicious form of mob censorship, and to ensure audiences can, at the very least, hear the speakers talk.”

The foundation said the situation developed at the school in Maryland when Robert George, a Princeton professor of politics, tried to speak, but was forced to quit because protesters drowned out the talk by playing loud music, shouting, and holding up signs.

The protesters were infuriated because George is a board member of the Heritage Foundation.

The event’s organizer, professor Joseph Prud’homme, tried unsuccessfully to reason with the disruptors, then escorted George out of the venue.

Worse, though, FIRE said “campus security reportedly stood by and watched the disruption happen, even though Washington College’s Protests and Demonstrations policy explicitly states that it ‘will intervene in the conduct of protests and demonstrations when others are deprived of their rights.’”

Such speech rights violations are becoming more and more common. In recent months, at Stanford, a scheduled speech by Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan was disrupted by threatening protesters, and swimmer Riley Gaines was blocked during an appearance at San Francisco State University.

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