The true freedom issues at play between Yiannopoulos and Berkeley

Credit: Simin Li/Art Editor Credit: Simin Li/Art Editor
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On Wednesday, Feb. 1, Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give a talk for the University of California Berkeley College Republicans club to the dismay of many Berkeley community members, who decided to protest. Ahead of the talk, however, around 150 masked outsiders from Oakland, CA interrupted the peaceful protest of Yiannopoulos and racism and began rioting, destroying university property and attacking Republicans on campus. As a result, the university canceled the event as a safety measure.

In the aftermath of the riot, Donald Trump, Yiannopoulos, and their supporters have claimed that, by cancelling the talk, the university attacked Yiannopoulos’s freedom of speech and should be punished. That perception contains a gross misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of freedom.

The First Amendment to the Constitution, the primary legal source of freedom in the United States, protects citizens from being limited in freedom by the government — but it says nothing about citizens’ abilities to silence one another. The student protestors, university, and outsider rioters were all private citizens, so, even ignoring the fact that he’s not an American citizen, Yiannopoulos cannot legally claim any infringement of rights.

In fact, if anyone’s freedom of speech was under attack here, it is that of the peaceful student protestors. Trump himself is now a member of the United States government, so any attempts on his part to silence citizens are officially censorship.

In his tweet about the Yianno-poulos-Berkeley affair, Trump sug-gested that Berkeley’s federal funding should be cut for cancelling Yiannopoulos’s talk. However, the violent rioters were in no way affiliated with the university, so the only roles that the university actually played were those of allowing students to speak out against Yiannopoulos’ hate speech, cancelling Yiannopoulos’ talk to protect its students and staff from the violent rioters, and even sending out a message afterwards reaffirming its commitment to freedom of speech. If Trump were to actually cut funding to Berkeley, he, as a member of the United States government, would be punishing students for speaking out against their government, and that would be an infringement of first amendment rights.

The purpose of freedom in the United States is to help people live the happiest, healthiest lives possible. Freedom of speech ensures that vulnerable members of society have outlets to express their discontent without fear of punishment: Freedom of religion allows people openly believe whatever they want. Freedom of the press allows us to have knowledge about our nation and government and enables us to make fully informed decisions about our lives. All of these freedoms work to uphold the values of self-empowerment and nurturance, values that are undermined by Yiannopoulos’ hate speech. Supposedly, when Yiannopoulos spoke at Berkeley, he was going to publicly name undocumented Berkeley students. Undocumented immigrants are the sort of vulnerable Americans that constitutional freedoms are designed to protect.

If Yiannopoulos had spoken, he would have wrecked those students’ lives. At worst, these students would have been deported, ripping them away from their friends and lives in the United States. At the very least, they and their families would have had to live with a heightened fear of deportation. People living in fear are not living their happiest, healthiest lives. People living in fear are not free.
Yiannopoulos is advocating for the freedom to take away the freedom of others. That is unacceptable and goes against everything that America is supposed to stand for.