Lawsuit intensifies spotlight on free speech controversies at UC Berkeley


Long revered as the birthplace of the free speech movement in the ’60s, UC Berkeley now finds itself at the center of a fractious debate about First Amendment protections and religious intolerance amid the unfolding tragedy in the Middle East.

Tempers are running high on all sides amid the bloodshed in the Middle East, which has already claimed thousands of lives, exposing ideological rifts between students and professors at the law school, spurring a discrimination lawsuit against the UC system and setting off a broader a debate over who gets to define the boundaries of First Amendment protections, a drama heightened by Berkeley’s legendary status as the heart of the ’60s student protest movement.

“It’s emblematic of the polarized times that we live in. We can’t begin to decide what the contours of expressive rights are,” said Will Creeley, the legal director of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a free-speech advocacy group. “In our pluralistic democracy, there are going to be groups out there with beliefs that you don’t share, that maybe the majority of Americans don’t share. But that’s what our system of government kind of defends and requires. We believe in groups of citizens banding together, even groups of citizens with unpopular ideas. That’s what the First Amendment protects.”

The war of words first flared last summer when a student group, Law Students for Justice in Palestine, adopted a bylaw that banned supporters of Zionism from speaking at its events. Roughly 22 other student groups have adopted variations of this bylaw.