As American as Apple Pie? · 11 April 2005

Filed under: Indiana, Press Coverage

Heckling during conservative speeches makes headlines

Editorial from the Indiana Daily Student--04/11/05

Imagine David Horowitz throwing pies into the audience during his speech. As a guest on our campus, he might figure that the best way to get his point across would be to chuck coconut cream at anyone who asked a question he didn't like.

That guest probably wouldn't be invited back because pie throwing just doesn't belong in a serious discussion. No matter how much you disagree with someone, you should not resort to these tactics that impede the speaker's opportunity to say what he thinks.

Members of the audience at two other Indiana colleges thought pie throwing was a clever

way of expressing their disagreement. At Earlham March 30, a student threw a pie at William Kristol, who edits The Weekly Standard. The day before Horowitz came to IU, he got hit with a pie at Butler.

Sweet! Score two for freedom from ideas we don't like! Actually, stunts like this degrade a free society.

Here at IU it was much less messy than crust and filling, but the protests against Horowitz were just as disruptive as flying food.

"Boos" instead of applause are not the problem. Protestors outside with posters and gags are not the problem. Pie throwing at other campuses and disrupting Horowitz in the auditorium here are problems.

This is the United States, where it is supposed to be safe to be in the minority. A speaker with whom the majority disagrees should not require heavy security just to express their ideas.

You don't have to agree with or even like your opponents, but basic respect is essential to managing disagreement in a free society. At least pretend to respect the rights of people with whom you disagree -- it will go a long way toward civil discussion and debate.

The hecklers did not draw attention to their point; they drew attention to themselves. Certainly in America, people do not have a right not to be criticized or yelled at for their views, but this spectacle was a poor display of free expression. It was an example of shooting your cause in the foot. Furthermore, their rudeness makes anyone who agrees with them look bad, and that growing bad reputation hurts the cause of academic freedom further.

Imagine if, for example, some extreme right-wingers decided to douse Al Sharpton (who actually will be speaking on campus later this month) with chocolate syrup. There would be outrage, rather than the snickering looks of disapproval shot at the anti-conservatives. The national media wouldn't put it on their "bizarre news" round-up, but would cite it as an example of freedom being curtailed.

The campus and academic freedom for which the hecklers spoke deserves more dignity than the rudeness on display at David Horowitz' controversial lecture.

Read SAF response.