In an eleventh hour about-face, Ann Coulter on Wednesday said she would cancel her planned speech at the University of California, Berkeley, after losing the backing of two conservative groups that had filed a federal lawsuit to ensure her right to appear.
In a statement posted to its website, Young America’s Foundation — one of two groups that took legal action earlier this week — said it could no longer participate in sponsoring the speech after the university, citing threats of violence, said it could not accommodate Coulter on the date and time of her scheduled speech.
“Berkeley should be ashamed for creating this hostile atmosphere. … YAF is pressing forward with its lawsuit against UC-Berkeley, and looks forward to the day when First Amendment freedoms are enjoyed by conservative students,” YAF said. “Ms. Coulter may still choose to speak in some form on campus, but Young America’s Foundation will not jeopardize the safety of its staff or students.”
The Berkeley College Republicans, which joined YAF in challenging the cancellation, also signed the statement.
“I’m very sad about Berkeley’s cancellation, but my sadness is greater than that. It is a dark day for free speech in America,” Coulter said on Twitter.
The battle surrounding Coulter’s right to speak highlights a growing schism on America’s campuses over the application of free speech, especially when schools are faced with risking student safety as violence between alt-right extremists and antifascist protesters becomes more frequent. While universities such as Berkeley, and Auburn earlier this month, have cited a threat of violence as justification to cancel appearances by white nationalists and hard-right conservatives, many have questioned if such cancellations amount to censorship.
“What are you afraid of — her ideas? Ask her the hard questions,” Bernie Sanders told The Huffington Post earlier this week. “Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don’t think that works in any way.”
Despite pulling its support, YAF sent a series of Tweets on Wednesday seeming to dampen any criticism in light of recent developments, saying it “did not capitulate to the Left or run from anything. In fact our students are there everyday.”
“At no time was there ever a space of lecture time confirmed for Ann Coulter to speak,” the organization said. “Conservatives shouldn’t be relegated to speaking outside under the threat of violence when liberals are given venues anytime they wish.”
Also on Wednesday, Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks sent a note to the campus criticizing what he described as a disregard for student safety from conservatives, The New York Times reported.
“Sadly and unfortunately, concern for student safety seems to be in short supply in certain quarters,” Dirks said. “This is a university, not a battlefield. … We must make every effort to hold events at a time and location that maximizes the chances that First Amendment rights can be successfully exercised and that community members can be protected.”