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Don’t criticize UC-Berkeley (yet) for denying Ben Shapiro’s speaking date

UPDATE: The administration has tentatively agreed to pay for costs that the College Republicans won’t bear for hosting Ben Shapiro. Story to come.

Young America’s Foundation and Ben Shapiro were quick to assign bias to the University of California-Berkeley yesterday when it said the conservative pundit’s intended campus speaking date two months out was not available, given his time and venue requests.

UCLA Law Prof. Eugene Volokh, who told an incredulous Democratic senator at a hearing last month that threats of violence against speech aren’t legally valid excuses to squelch it, isn’t ready to judge the administration a speech squelcher – yet.

In a Washington Post column today, the First Amendment expert notes he’s criticized both his own institution and its Berkeley cousin “for their interference with speech,” but the latter is raising legitimate logistical issues (at this point) regarding Shapiro:

Rooms suitable for 500 people or more are limited on any campus, and they are often occupied with other things — concerts, lectures and the like. They are often indeed booked two months out, or more.

He said a Berkeley official told him it only has three rooms that don’t require rental fees (already booked) and officials have yet to confirm with the College Republicans, who will be hosting Shapiro, if they’re willing to pay for a room for that night:

I appreciate that many conservatives suspect the worst of many universities, including Berkeley. … Indeed, even if the university is imposing extra security requirements (high costs for police overtime, time windows that limit the likely audience, and so on) solely because of a good-faith belief that the speaker will bring a hostile audience, and not because of the university’s own hostility to the speaker, that could itself be seen as impermissible viewpoint discrimination. …

But sometimes our suspicions prove unfounded. Sometimes a request for a meeting to discuss some slightly different alternatives to a request really is an attempt to satisfy the request as well as possible, given the circumstances (here, the space constraints).

As Volokh notes, security fees are a better test of whether a university is truly assessing groups without regard to their viewpoint.

When conservative and libertarian groups howl about the huge fees they are often assessed late in the process (in contrast to, say, Democrats), schools sometimes pare back these so-called speech taxes.

Then again, UC-Berkeley already lost an estimated $100,000 when left-wing rioters vandalized and destroyed campus property in order to chase off Milo Yiannopoulos from his campus speaking gig, so it may be in no mood to give the CRs a break – at which point they will have firmer ground on which to complain.

Read Volokh’s analysis.

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