Op-Ed: When a Berkeley Law debate on free speech got turned into a social media circus
On May 14, members of a conservative law center held a debate on the topic of free speech and free speech zones. Over the past few years, Berkeley’s debate club has hosted speakers on topics ranging from the “invisibility of the law” to the Constitution and the Supreme Court.
The first speaker was Berkeley attorney and Berkeley law professor Eugene Volokh, who spoke on the subject of the “Second Amendment-like right to carry a gun on campus.”
The second speaker was Eric Dubal, the head of the Berkeley law center’s Free Speech Zone Project, who spoke on free speech on a public sidewalk.
These two speakers were not just debating the merits of their respective views, they were debating who had the better view of free speech — a matter that is not a simple matter of opinion. The fact that the subject matter of their arguments involved free speech was an important factor, but not a determinative factor, in the outcome.
So what happened?
Well, a conservative organization called The Berkeley Law Debate Club decided to engage its conservative audience directly in a public debate about two free speech issues. In a post on Thursday, a group called the Berkeley Law Debate Club said it will not engage in any future free speech related debates because the club’s members “cannot in good conscience endorse political or ideological positions that undermine the right to publicly disagree with anyone.”
There are six steps to take when something like this happens; there are six points that the Berkeley Law Debate Club chose to miss.
1. You need to have a free speech debate where one side is not just arguing their opinion but actively opposing that opinion.
The Berkeley Law Debate Club decided against arguing the free speech rights of their conservative audience, but rather chose to simply debate the merits of their point of view; free speech on a public sidewalk was the issue in dispute.
The difference between the Berkeley Law Debate Club and a regular debate club is that one has the opportunity to argue their position directly on the question and then let the