April 14, 2009 proved to be a dark day for progress and equality in, ironically, one of the most liberal collegiate atmospheres in the country. Forty-six years after the highly controversial Speaker Ban law was passed, it seems that the UNC Chapel Hill finds itself once again in the spotlight. In 1963, the Speaker Ban prohibited members of the Communist Party or people who had used the Fifth Amendment to avoid Congressional investigations of “un-American” activity from speaking on campus. It seems history has unfortunately repeated itself—Last Tuesday, Tom Tancredo, former Republican U.S. Representative from Colorado, former presidential candidate and outspoken critic of immigration, was brought to UNC by the new student organization Youth for Western Civilization. Speakers are brought to UNC to create discussion and dialogue around issues that are important in today’s society, with the unspoken ideal that they will be heard and respected, even if their audience disagrees. Many students strongly disagree with Tancredo’s views, and rather than giving him the respect of saying his opinion, students prevented any conversation from occuring and seemed to enact their own modern speaker ban in 2009.
At the time of the speech, about 150 people gathered in Bingham Hall auditorium, and many more protestors gathered in the hallway after police declared the room full and blocked the doorway, according to the Daily Tar Heel. Protesting is a right, but a line was crossed when students held up signs declaring, “No Dialogue for Hate Speech,” in front of Tancredo’s face, literally preventing him from speaking and even cursing at him. Why was this their answer to the views they so adamantly disagreed with? It is one thing to be passionate about your beliefs—to use knowledge and passion to challenge the other side with facts and better argued points—but it’s something else when students, who are fighting for diversity, make it impossible for diverse opinions to be exchanged. These students’ actions resembled bratty children having irrational temper tantrums—not young adults calmly and intelligently addressing an important issue. What’s worse is that they resembled the exact type of narrow-minded behavior that banned speakers from campus so long ago.
“What we’ve got is the different side to the same coin,” said James Medford, former Campus Y president and roommate of then-Student Body Presdient Paul Dickson, who led the fight against the speaker ban. “You have to let people speak. It’s only when people are denied the right to speak that their opinions become more important than they probably are.” It is the continuous flow of opinions and ideals that keep this country, and this entire world, moving forward.
For more information on UNC and the Speaker Ban law, check out William Link’s biography of Bill Friday, former university president, William Friday: Power, Purpose, & American Higher Education. Bill Friday was president during the controversial Speaker Ban and this book shows how he fought against this law to ensure freedom of speech existed at UNC.
****There will be a documentary on free speech at UNC tonight in the Hanes Art Center at 7 pm. The event will feature a panel of individuals who were involved in the Speaker Ban protest and court case.