Phi Beta Cons

Is Heckling a Right?

In the wake of the ugly incident at UC Irvine, some people are seriously arguing that heckling should be protected speech. An Inside Higher Ed story goes into the details.

If a lecturer has free-speech rights, why don’t people in the audience have an equal right to shout their displeasure? Many years ago, Murray Rothbard resolved this apparent conflict by showing that it disappears when you take property rights into consideration. The invited speaker doesn’t have the right to say just anything he wants; he’s been invited for a particular purpose and his right to speak is thus limited. And the same for the audience; they’ve been admitted to a building for the purpose of listening and, if permitted, asking questions. They don’t have a universal right of free speech in the building any more than the invited lecturer does. If UCI wanted to allow audience members carte blanche to shout and disrupt, it could, but it did not. It was the university’s building, so the university got to set the rules for its use. End of controversy.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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