U of U holds panel discussion about free speech before Shapiro visit

Sep 25, 2017, 6:45 PM | Updated: 7:13 pm

UNIVERSITY OF UTAH –   Students and faculty are gearing up for a speech from a controversial conservative talk show host this Wednesday.  However, before protesters come to crash the speech, students and faculty had a frank discussion about what is and what isn’t “protected speech.”

His appearances have sparked protests all over the country, most recently on the campus of UC Berkley.

(Photo Credit: Josh Edelson, Associate Press)

Whether the criticism is accurate are not, conservative host Ben Shapiro has been accused of being many things.  He has been accused of being racist, despite his assertions that he hates racism.  He’s been accused of being a Neo-Nazi, although he says he’s frequently attacked by the “Alt-Right” for being Jewish.

He’s also been accused of being transphobic.  Bennion Center Scholar Team leader Taylor Checketts says, “He won’t use the pronouns that [transgender people] ask to be called by.  So, it’s more of a personal attack rather than a general political statement.”

He says a lot of students have already come forward saying they don’t want Shapiro to speak.  “A lot of people argue that he’s causing a lot of people to feel unsafe,” says Checketts.  Despite that, he says the group bringing Shapiro to campus has every right to rent the auditorium to let him speak.

Teachers, dean, attorneys and students participated in the panel discussion about free speech.  Dean of students Lori McDonald says there is a lot of confusion about what kind of speech is protected by law and what people may find morally acceptable.  She says, “When we learn that the laws may be structured a little bit differently it can be a surprise.”

Attorneys at the panel say even hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, unless it leads to “imminent violence.”  McDonald says, “[Free speech laws] are written in ‘legalese’ that makes it difficult for even the most educated to read and understand and interpret.”

The mood at the panel discussion was calm, and school officials hope it stays that way when Shapiro speaks.

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U of U holds panel discussion about free speech before Shapiro visit