Janet Napolitano, former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under Barack Obama and current president of the University of California system, said on Friday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that “we have to do a much better job” at teaching young people about what the First Amendment means, particularly when it comes to free speech.
Napolitano was asked by New York Times reporter and Morning Joe panelist Jeremy Peters about the recent controversy surrounding conservative speakers who were scheduled to make appearances at UC-Berkeley, a campus that Napolitano oversees as the UC system president.
Peters noted that UC-Berkeley was the “birthplace of the free speech movement,” but said it now “seems more like the birthplace of the new anti-free speech movement.”
“There’s a lot of calls to restrict controversial speakers. Some of them racist speakers. Do you think as an educator ahead of the system that there is a generational shift in the understanding of what free speech is and who should be allowed to speak? Is it a problem in your eyes?” Peters asked.
Napolitano responded by saying, “Yeah, I think it is [a problem].”
“I think we have to do a much better job of educating our young people about what the First Amendment protects, what it means, and how, once you start restricting speech, you are on a slippery slope,” Napolitano added, comparing the silencing of conservative speakers to the silencing of civil rights leaders in the mid-20th century.
Napolitano’s comments come on the heels of multiple conservative speakers, who were scheduled to appear on a college campus that Napolitano oversees, were met with intense protests from liberal students. Some of them turned to violence to silence their political opponents.
Conservative thought leader Ben Shapiro, right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, and conservative author Ann Coulter are three of the speakers who didn’t receive the same welcoming as liberal speakers at UC-Berkeley, which is, ironically, the “birthplace of free speech.”
As recently as September, Yiannopoulos’ “Free Speech Week” events at UC-Berkeley were canceled after the controversial speaker had trouble securing a venue on campus to hold the events. A university official claimed at the time that the difficulties were due to students not submitting the appropriate paperwork and money on time — a claim that since then has been refuted by emails released by Yiannopoulos and a number of students.
“It’s quite simple: The University didn’t want the event to happen, but they couldn’t cancel outright, so they needed to make it look like it was our own fault,” Pranav Jandhyala, news editor for the Berkeley Patriot newspaper, said.
On multiple occasions earlier this year, conservative speakers Ben Shapiro and Ann Coulter were forced to cancel their appearances at UC-Berkeley over concerns of violence toward those who were planning to attend the events – a tactic by the left which is often called a Heckler’s Veto.