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Free Speech Movement 1964: Newsletter No. IV
"The vitality of Civil and political institutions in our society depends on free discussion."
In the 1960s, administrators at the University of California, Berkeley, facing pressure from the state legislature, banned students from engaging in political activity on campus. In 1964, Mario Salvo and 500 of his fellow students marched to the administration building in protest of the order, calling for a repeal of all regulations limiting student free speech on every college campus in the California system. This was the start of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement (FSM), which, along with Students for a Democratic Society, ignited a free speech awakening of the so-called New Left on college campuses around the country.
Constitutional rights cannot know the word "compromise." The freedoms that the FSM are demanding are constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. They cannot be negotiated, limited, abolished or controlled other than in exceptional instances and then only by the courts. What, then, was the purpose of submitting the free speech question to a campus committee?
The FSM voluntarily refrained from using their constitutional rights in hopes that an agreeable decision could be effected by committee discussion. Not only are the pressures and threats of demonstration distasteful to the Administration. They are also so to us and when what appeared to be an easier method manifested itself, we were more than willing to try.
But there was only one kind of conclusion, however stated, that could have been acceptable. That conclusion would have had to give us (as we've said before) the same rights as students that we have as citizens—i.e. the full force and protection of amendments one and fourteen.
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The vitality of Civil and political institutions in our society depends on free discussion. As Chief Justice Hughes wrote in De Jonge v Oregon, 299 US 353 . . .'it is only through free debate and free exchange of ideas that government remains responsible to the will of the people and peaceful change is effected. The right to speak freely and to promote diversity of ideas and programs is therefore one of the chief distinctions that sets us apart from totalitarian regimes.'
Accordingly a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it pressed for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, . . . is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that arise far above public convenience, annoyance, or unrest . . . . . There is no room under our constitution for a more restrictive view. For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups.
This section deserves to be read and reread: It seems Mr. Douglas realizes the danger of the "standardization of ideas" — something applicable to our multi-university. BUT MOST IMPORTANT consider Douglas's rule under which speech can be limited by Congress, a state, and therefore any of a state's subdivisions; (Speech is protected against censorship) unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil.
Such is definitely NOT the case here. By restricting speech beyond the above rule, the administration is acting outside the bounds of the constitution.