Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro, a Cal State Los Angeles student, and a pair of right-leaning organizations are suing the university and some of its professors over the matter of free speech.
Despite protests and an attempt by Cal State L.A. president William Covino to postpone the presentation, Shapiro gave a speech, titled “When Diversity Becomes a Problem,” at the largely Latino school on Feb. 25. The conservative students group Young Americans for Freedom, a plaintiff in the case, sponsored the appearance.
The suit, filed today in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, claims that, in effect, the university muzzled Shapiro to some extent because organizers were unsuccessfully asked to pay more than $600 for extra security, professors enticed students to block access to the speech as a way of protesting Shapiro, and he was “forced to speak to a half-empty theater.”
It also alleges that plaintiff Mark Kahanding, a finance major at the university and the chair of its Young Americans for Freedom chapter, was falsely imprisoned because protesters blocked exits during the speech.
Thus the school denied Shapiro's “fundamental rights to free speech, due process and equal protection of the law,” the filing states argues
The suit seeks compensatory and nominal damages, civil penalties, attorneys' fees and costs, and a judgment that Cal State Los Angeles violated the civil rights of the defendants as well as its own policies.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say Shapiro, who has said that the “public school system has been teaching students that they are each members of victimized groups,” is in favor of intellectual diversity.
At the speech Shapiro reportedly said “f—- you” to demonstrators and complained that “an actual conversation” about diversity could not take place under those conditions.
Students unhappy that the speech went on later called unsuccessfully for the ouster of university president Covino.
“The cornerstone of higher education is the ability of students to participate in the 'marketplace of ideas' on campus,” said Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel for a group called Alliance Defending Freedom and an attorney for the plaintiffs. “Instead, student groups and Mr. Shapiro encountered systematic and violent opposition to a free-speech event promoting diversity of opinion. When public universities discriminate against points of view they don't like, they violate both the First Amendment and a core purpose behind their own existence. This type of viewpoint discrimination cannot and will not stand.”
Shapiro said on his website that some Cal State Los Angeles students had scheduled a “debrief” this week to address the “hurt and trauma” caused by his speech. A link to the event is no longer active.
A spokesman for the university said it had no comment.
Ethnic and racial diversity is crucial in California, where Latinos now compose the largest demographic. Brown taxpayers should be able to see their kids enjoy public universities, get jobs in a very white Hollywood, and continue to have hope that the American Dream isn't over now that white folks are no longer the majority.
But that doesn't mean we should hit the pause button on free speech.
The question for this case seems to be this: Are Cal State Los Angeles officials and the professors named in the suit, including local Black Lives Matter organizer Melina Abdullah, responsible for ensuring not only that Shapiro had a platform but that it was free of disruption?
Should the taxpayers of California have rolled out the red carpet and kept protesters at bay as if he were president of the United States? Is the school responsible for ensuring a full theater for every speaker?
We're going to go out on a limb and predict this suit will be about as popular with its U.S. District Court judge and jury as Shapiro is with Latino students in L.A.
Shapiro is a pendejo, and it's our right to say that.