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Editorial: Rude behavior at conservative's speech drags UB students into bad company

The ugliness being displayed on college campuses where protesters have become violent or threatened violence because of the conservative views of speakers would be disturbing in any context, but is especially so when it occurs on college campuses that should be havens of free speech.

Lately, student protests against conservative speakers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Middlebury College have grabbed headlines. It is disappointing that the University at Buffalo would earn a dishonorable mention.

This is America. Freedom of expression and ideas is one of this nation’s hallmarks. It sets us apart from nations where citizens risk jail or worse by speaking out.

Someone sharing conservative viewpoints on a college campus – invited to speak by a group of like-minded students – should not be shut down because the other side does not like what he or she has to say. What is more un-American than that?

Even Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont broke with liberal protesters who tried to block conservative rabble-rouser Ann Coulter, who planned to speak at the University of California, Berkeley, last week. The speech was canceled amid safety and security concerns. Coulter criticized the university – justifiably – because officials were not being more supportive of free speech.

There was the Middlebury College professor who got whiplash and a concussion trying to get away from a group of protesters upset by the appearance of scholar Charles Murray on campus in March. And a few weeks later, Manhattan Institute researcher Heather MacDonald, a critic of the Black Lives Matter movement and author of “The War on Cops,” delivered a speech to a mostly empty hall, after protesters blockaded the entrance to the room.

And now, UB?

Controversial speaker Robert Spencer found himself being shouted down and heckled at the podium, according to an article by News staff reporter Jay Tokasz. The topic: “Exposing Radical Islam: The Dangers of Jihad in Today’s World.”

A couple of hundred people showed up, many of them intent on making clear their opposition to Spencer’s viewpoint on Islam. Another 100 or more people were kept outside the room by university police because of fire code limits inside. This did not go over well with protesters. While the situation did not turn violent, it was rude and reflected the kind of intolerance that many protesters cite as their motivation.

Despite using a microphone during his talk, Spencer was frequently drowned out by shouts and chants to let more students inside, according to the article. Some students called him a Nazi, and others just yelled for him to shut up.

It is well within the students’ right to disagree or even to protest outside the hall. But Spencer was invited to talk. He is part of a speakers bureau organized by the national Young Americans for Freedom Foundation, and frequently speaks on college campuses at the invitation of local chapters. He was invited by the chapter that formed on the UB campus in February.

This is not unique to campus liberals. Tea party agitators behaved similarly in town hall meetings meant to explore the Affordable Care Act in 2009. They were at least as rude and just as wrong. Americans of all stripes, it seems, have to relearn the requirements of citizenship.

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