Dean Erwin Chemerinsky Talks Free Speech

By Eva Barrows

The League of Women Voters of Palo Alto hosted a forum on free speech () at the Midpen Media Center in late March. Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky was the guest speaker and John J. Donohue III, Professor of Law at Stanford University hosted. Dean Chemerinsky’s talk focused on free speech in relation to college campus activity.

Through his talk, Dean Chemerinsky educates viewers on what current free speech law is versus what people think it should be. Students and faculty might not like or feel comfortable with groups voicing hate speech on campus. But, says the Dean, all ideas and views are protected under the 1st amendment including hate speech.

The Dean asks, “Are we better off allowing campus officials to pick and choose speakers or should we allow speech to occur?”
Campuses need to ensure the safety of their students while preserving free speech for all. Dean Chemerinsky says campuses can implement time, place and manner restrictions on speech activity. A free speech zone on campus is an example of allowing people to share their views without disrupting classes. When controversial speakers come to a college, students in opposition can organize counter-protests or hold teach-ins to voice their opinions.

Although all ideas and views are protected by law and can be expressed on college campuses, three categories of speech are criminal on campus. Incitement of illegal activity, true threats, and harassment are not protected speech. The Dean gives examples of each scenario to help clarify the law.

The last half of the forum opened up to questions from the audience. The Dean was asked about the effects of guns on speech, political speech and the power Google and Facebook have over free speech. Dean Chemerinsky made it easy to follow the logic of the law by using relatable court case examples to illustrate his points throughout the hour-long talk. If you’re looking for clarification on the legal meaning of free speech and protections under the law, viewing this League of Women Voters presentation is a great place to start.

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