U. of Wisconsin Lets Hecklers Veto Conservatives, But Welcomes Anti-Christian Hate Group

By Rev. Gregory Jensen Published on December 2, 2016

Recently, the University of Wisconsin-Madison sponsored a public Q&A session with the punk rock band P***y Riot. The group is famous for staging anti-Putin protests in Russia. Unfortunately, they have vented their anger by desecrating Orthodox churches.Desecration

The desecration involved the performance of a “punk prayer,” a song that intentionally mocked Orthodox services. Their parody included the phrase “Sran Gospodnya,” which literally means “s**t of the Lord.” The group also called Patriarch Kyril a b***h (suka) and accused him of believing in Putin rather than God. During the Soviet era, along with torture and murder of Christians (and others), the desecration of churches was a common tactic as the Communists tried to create an atheistic state by force. That means that church desecrations are to Orthodox Christians in Russia what cross burnings would be to African-Americans. That P***y Riot, or any similar group, is welcome on American college campuses, reflects badly on the moral health of these institutions.

Anti-Christian Hate Groups Should Check Their Privilege

When I heard P***y Riot was coming to campus, I emailed UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank. I took care to acknowledge the group’s right to free speech but objected to an anti-Christian hate group being sponsored by the University. I wrote: “I find it inconceivable that the University would invite a racist group to speak. Why then is an anti-Christian group provided a forum?” “That this was done,” I concluded, “without consultation, or even notice, to the Orthodox Christian community on campus merely compounds the offense.”

Vice-Chancellor John Lucas responded blandly that the invitation came via “student-led committees,” that P***y Riot is “touring other campuses around the country,” and that the group’s presence on campus “meets all applicable campus guidelines.” Lucas assured me that “The University of Wisconsin-Madison encourages the widest range of perspectives, across political, racial and religious spectrums” and that he and the Chancellor support my “rights [sic] to speak out against the group.”

To be blunt, the crude intimidation of a conservative speaker on UW’s campus makes me skeptical of these assurances.

Silencing Ben Shapiro

Two days before P***y Riot’s Q&A session, there was a public lecture by pro-life, mainstream conservative writer Ben Shapiro. While often pointed in his comments, and at times clearly frustrated with some students, Shapiro didn’t engage in anything that resembles the hate speech of which he was accused by protesters. Watch for yourself:

 

 
In the words of the student who introduced him, what Shapiro is doing is pushing back against the leftist bullying that is common on many American college campuses. By turns satirical and serious, Shapiro argued that it was time for students to “stop being self-indulgent children.” Before he could finish his thought, a member of the audience called him a “white supremacist,” a charge Shapiro answered by pointing to his yarmulke and saying that “the folks with the swastikas aren’t too nice to my type.”

Shapiro’s talk was delayed for about a half hour by UW students at the invitation of a Facebook page “F*** White Supremacy, Interrupting Ben Shapiro.” Protestors chanted “Shame!” and “Safety!” making it clear that UW isn’t a welcoming place for those of us who disagree with the secular and progressive orthodoxy that holds sway on this and other campuses.

Based on what happened at Shapiro’s lecture, my “rights to speak out” publicly and on campus against P***y Riot aren’t as secure as administrators wish to pretend.

Christians and Conservatives Must Surrender to Hecklers

When protesters stood in front of the room to block Shapiro, frustrated audience members shouted “Tell us what you want or get out!” One protester wanted the audience to confess they were all white supremacists. Another wanted people to know that “trans-students” and “students of color” are at highest risk for (presumable) violence (hence, the chants of “Safety!”).

Shapiro tried to engage the protesters but didn’t make any progress. Instead he simply waited until the protesters decided to leave chanting as they did “F**K White Supremacy!”

But there’s a bit more to the story than a speaker being patient.

At UW and many college campuses, “free speech” means that I must allow people to disrupt me in ways that I would never disrupt them. Being subject to vulgar disruption is a pre-condition for those who don’t hold the campus orthodoxy.

“Just so y’all know how this was working, the reason those people were not arrested” Shapiro said was because “the administration decided … that if they called the cops and arrested those students, they would shut down the entire event.”

At UW and many college campuses, “free speech” means that I must allow people to disrupt me in ways that I would never disrupt them. Being subject to vulgar disruption is a pre-condition for those who don’t hold the campus orthodoxy.

As a practical matter, this means that any event sponsored by a Christian group — lecture or worship service — if it’s held on UW property, is in principle subject to disruption by protesters. Free speech advocates call this the “heckler’s veto.” P***y Riot desecrated churches and UW has now, ­de facto, made clear that such behavior is acceptable not only in Russia but on campus as well.

Free debate on crucial topics can’t happen when one side assumes that being on the “right side of history” allows them to shout down those with whom they disagree. Or to crassly mock their religious services, reminding them of past, blood-soaked persecutions.

Bullying and Censorship Must End

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, or if you prefer “annexation,” of Crimea and his saber-rattling should be protested. And while the relationship between Church and Nation — and so Church and State — in Russia (see here and here) is more complicated than P**y Riot and their Western supporters think, they should be commended for questioning the close connection between Putin and some members of the Moscow Patriarchate. My concern about the relationship between the Russian State and the Church of Russia is hardly unique among Orthodox Christians both here and in Russia.

But free debate on crucial topics like that one can’t happen when one side assumes that being on the “right side of history” allows them to shout down those with whom they disagree. Or to crassly mock their religious services, reminding them of past, blood-soaked persecutions. Nor is debate possible when one side of the argument — the secular left — is given carte blanche to shout down any dissenting speaker.

What we saw in the Soviet Union we see now, in seminal form, on college campuses. That P***y Riot is more feckless than fearsome doesn’t matter. UW’s promotion of the group’s thuggish behavior doesn’t just harm freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It harms the rule of law and all of us, whatever our faith and whatever our views.

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