Protecting free speech

Ohio State University officials are in a tough position. They have been asked to allow “white nationalist” Richard Spencer to speak on campus, but have said no for safety reasons.

“White nationalist” is the current term for someone we used to call a racist. No doubt allowing Spencer to speak on the OSU campus would carry with it the risk of violence.

But is that an acceptable reason to limit free speech on a college campus?

Or are colleges and universities obligated to take risks to defend free speech?

Apparently, we have come a long way since most Americans agreed that, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

But give OSU and others who have banned conservative speakers a break.

The record of attacks and riots directed against conservative speakers makes it clear there is reason for concern:

∫ This spring, rioters shut down the University of California at Berkeley for a time, to stop conservative Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking.

∫ In February, fights broke out during an appearance by conservative Gavin McInnes.

∫ Last year, a conservative speaker at Columbia University was attacked while on stage.

∫ Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro was prevented from speaking at California State University in Los Angeles, while opponents barricaded the entrances to a theater.

∫ Last March, violent protesters stopped a speech by conservative social scientist Charles Murray at Middlebury College. A professor was injured.

An attorney has threatened to sue OSU if it does not allow Spencer to speak on campus. Meanwhile, OSU officials have said they will consider whether some alternative arrangement can be made for Spencer.

They should find a way to let Spencer speak on campus, even if that means surrounding him with a wall of police officers. Otherwise, they will be allowing the threat of violence to curb freedom of speech.

That is — or at least was, at one time — not acceptable in the United States of America.