Investigates nonthreatening speech with no hesitance, however
John Banzhaf has spent years denouncing his employer, George Washington University, for investigating its students for their free speech.
But it was the private university’s refusal to condemn posters that threatened physical violence against a conservative pundit that really set off the law professor last week.
“GWU Silent and Impotent Over Free Speech Intimidation,” Banzhaf titled an email blast, referring to the Young Americans for Freedom event featuring Daily Wire editor Ben Shapiro.
Hours before the Jan. 17 event, posters appeared around campus that read “Hey YAF. Get Security,” with a red “X” over a picture of Shapiro.
Banzhaf, who teaches public-interest law and pioneered anti-smoking litigation campaigns, contrasted the university’s quickness to investigate offensive speech with its hands-off approach to the anti-Shapiro flyers.
No one has taken responsibility for posting the flyers, which were “clearly threatening unlawful physical violence” towards Shapiro and the YAF chapter in an attempt to get the event cancelled, he wrote.
For the moment, Banzhaf has no plans to translate his virtual activism against GWU into concrete action within the university, he told The College Fix in an email.
“It is said the sunlight is the best disinfectant, so shining the light on situations where a university yields to mob pressure and ignores fundamental rights might tend to deter similar actions at GWU and elsewhere in the future,” Banzhaf wrote.
The YAF chapter appreciates Banzhaf’s support and would like to see a “statement of unity and support” from the administration, “but sadly that is too much to ask from a liberal institution like GW,” Co-President Kara Zupkus told The Fix in a Facebook message.
In contrast to Banzhaf’s portrayal of GWU as getting steadily worse, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education believes the university’s speech policies are getting better.
During its annual review of GWU’s speech-code rating, completed last month, the civil liberties group found the university had revised its policies enough to raise its rating, Laura Beltz, senior program officer for policy reform, told The Fix in an email.
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