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Grand Canyon University Isn’t the First to Cancel a Ben Shapiro Speech, but It Should Be the Last

Many were surprised and disappointed when private, Christian school Grand Canyon University cancelled Ben Shapiro’s scheduled lecture last week, claiming it wanted to focus on more “inclusive” events and speakers.

Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? No.

Shapiro is no stranger to being blocked from speaking on college campuses. And Alliance Defending Freedom has been involved in a number of these legal issues.

In fact, the ADF Center for Academic Freedom (CAF) recently sent a letter to the University of Pittsburgh after it charged a student group more than $5,500 in security costs for inviting Shapiro to speak. University officials claimed that the fees were based on the possibility of “controversy” and “protests” in opposition to the event.

Perhaps an even more notable example is the lawsuit that CAF attorneys filed against California State University – Los Angeles (CSULA) in 2016.

Shapiro was scheduled to give a presentation on campus in February 2016 as part of a free-speech event organized by Young America’s Foundation (YAF) and the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom.

At first, university officials attempted to shut down the event by charging over $600 in security fees – claiming the event was “controversial.” ADF sent a letter to the school asking it to rescind the unconstitutional security fees. The university did so… but then cancelled the event because it disagreed with Shapiro’s viewpoint. When YAF decided to continue as planned, hundreds of protestors, including CSULA faculty, blocked entrance to the event. And CSULA President William Covino ordered campus police not to intervene. (CSULA eventually agreed to change its discriminatory speech policies after ADF filed a lawsuit.)

To be fair, Shapiro’s lecture at GCU wasn’t shut down by a mob, so the similarities don’t go quite that far.

But listen to how CSULA President Covino justified his original decision to cancel the event. He explained it was “best for our campus community” that the event be cancelled and combined with a “more inclusive event” that he would schedule another time so that it could include Shapiro alongside “speakers with different viewpoints on diversity.”

Sound familiar?

Grand Canyon might be a private, Christian school – and it is free to choose who speaks on its campus. But its original decision to cancel Shapiro’s lecture to focus on more “inclusive” events is in line with a larger trend.

Across the country, university officials are kicking certain viewpoints off campus by labeling them “controversial” and “divisive.”

But universities should be a marketplace of ideas. That means students should be able to engage with a variety of viewpoints on campus – not only the viewpoints that the university deems are acceptable.

Today’s students will be tomorrow’s voters, legislators, and judges. If they are learning (as many are) that the appropriate way to interact with an opposing viewpoint is to silence it, that does not bode well for free speech in our country.

It seems that Grand Canyon University would agree. In its “Position on Academic Freedom” GCU claims that “critical thought, open dialogue, and a fair presentation of all major views is vital to higher education, but is indispensable for genuinely Christian instruction.”

Thankfully, GCU has since decided to re-invite Shapiro to campus. It’s a reversal that can be attributed to the outrage among those in the GCU community.

As Mueller said: "We got tremendous amounts of negative publicity, which obviously nobody likes."

And that is exactly how it should be. Students, professors, and alumni need to hold universities (both public and private) accountable to the principles of academic freedom and free speech. The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to doing just that and has won over 400 victories for free speech on public university campuses across the country.

Together, we must demand better from our universities if we want to see our rights preserved in society.

After all, what students learn on university campuses doesn’t stay on university campuses.

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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