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Protection for the Haters Too

Cal State debate invitation sets off a 1st Amendment flap

September 08, 1996

The 1st Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech is one of the rocks on which democracy stands. It applies even if a speaker expresses beliefs that are morally repugnant. That's why the Cal State Northridge Student Senate can invite just about anyone to debate an issue. And that's why it could invite David Duke to argue against affirmative action programs. The former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard will be paid $4,000 for the Sept. 25 appearance.

The debate will occur as Californians prepare to vote in November on Proposition 209, which would outlaw affirmative action hiring by state and local government agencies.

Plainly, far better choices than a thinly veiled racist such as Duke are available to the organizers of the debate. Free speech, however, is not the exclusive province of excellent messengers, or even decent ones.

And, of course, the freedoms that define this nation also extend to opponents of the invitation to Duke. So, the CSUN Student Senate will have to face accusations that this is an unseemly bid for attention or an effort to tie Proposition 209 to the klan.

Protests are expected. Such was the case when Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan accepted $19,000 to speak at CSUN in 1993. Farrakhan's previous anti-Semitic statements prompted Jewish students and others to hold a "Gathering of People for Understanding" on campus. That kind of response too is a part of what ennobles this nation.

Even so, it is shocking how University of California Regent Ward Connerly, a chief proponent of 209, has entered this little fray, telling CSUN President Blenda Wilson that the invitation to Duke should be revoked "unless it is your choice to dishonor your university and the integrity" of debate on the issue. What gall from a man who has had no shortage of outlets for his controversial views!

Wilson's response was correct: She won't intercede. Meanwhile, someone ought to give a copy of the 1st Amendment to Connerly. Seems he needs to refresh his memory.

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