Rabbi Daniel Lapin
Cañada College students interrupting the speech last week of a guest invited by the campus conservative coalition is giving rise to questions regarding school policy protecting free speech and political activism.
Ralliers wrapped in rainbow American flags, hoisting signs declaring “No white supremacy. This is our community,” and chanting “don’t give into fascist fear, all students are welcome here,” interrupted a speech by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, according to video of the Thursday, April 25, event.
While those backing Lapin claim more should have been done by campus officials and security to squelch the interruption, others believe the incident shines a light on murky policy regarding free speech protections.
“We are starting to see more and more activism and more protest and we need to figure out how to keep everyone safe on campuses, but how to also allow free expression of political views,” said Kristen Parks, a political science instructor at Cañada College.
Parks pointed to the Lapin incident, May Day student rallies and a coordinated walkout following the most recent presidential election as examples of more common political demonstrations on San Mateo County Community College District campuses.
District spokesman Mitchell Bailey said in an email while the Cañada College incident is being reviewed, he expects the students involved to face punishment.
“While the college is continuing to gather information about the behavior of some attendees, the students who disrupted the event did so in violation of college and district policies,” he said. “They will face disciplinary action through the college’s established discipline processes.”
He added district officials plan to further examine policy at all schools regulating speech and freedom of expression, calling the issue a “delicate balance.”
Bailey would not specify the potential punishment students may face, citing a district policy precluding comment on discipline.
Lapin was invited to speak on the morality of capitalism, which is aligned with the focus of his book “Thou Shall Prosper: The Ten Commandments for Making Money,” examining personal wealth and religion.
Lapin, who refers to himself as “America’s rabbi,” initially attempted to speak over the handful of students loudly protesting at the Redwood City campus. After an unsuccessful try, he was ushered with some audience members to another venue where he finished.
Cellphone video of the incident shows some students chanting at Lapin, while others in the crowd attempt to intervene and defend his ability to speak. Parks said while tempers occasionally flared, she was not concerned for her safety.
“People were angry on both sides but I don’t think it was violent … I tend to trust that we are safe here. I do think for many people it was a shock. They haven’t seen this sort of yelling and screaming and energy on our campus before,” she said, while noting some appeared to scuffle briefly over signs.
Lapin’s wife Susan though claims more should have been done to protect the speaker and those assembled to hear him talk.
“The protests here have been empowered by other, larger and better known, colleges that have chosen to side with suppression of free speech and thuggish behavior,” she said in her blog.
She compared the disruption at Cañada College to similar efforts to shut down a speech by Ann Coulter at the University of Berkeley campus last week. Parks noted Lapin was invited by the local wing of the Young America’s Foundation, a national organization that also invited Coulter to Berkeley.
Word spread prior to Lapin’s appearance, said Parks, granting students time to research their opposition and greet him with signs expressing their dissent. Susan Lapin claimed she took no issue with those who silently opposed her husband’s presence, and shared an image of a card circulated before the speech claiming the rabbi is a capitalist, homophobe and “Islamophobe.”
Lapin has been a guest on conservative talk show host Glenn Beck’s programs, where he has advocated for the merits of banning refugees. He has also claimed in other interviews the sympathies of some liberals can be tied to their sexual attraction for Muslim extremists.
Parks said she expected issues similar to the Lapin incident to present themselves again, which behooves officials to make district policy on political expression more clear.
“I think it’s just another aspect of our polarized national politics,” she said. “And I also think we are starting to see at community colleges, students becoming more and more engaged and politically active.”
To that end, Bailey said officials are dedicated to assuring the rights of all at district campuses are defended under an effort to establish an environment promoting productive and deferential dialogue.
“The district’s three colleges strive to serve as supportive learning communities where students, faculty and staff are encouraged to share and discuss diverging views in an environment of mutual respect,” he said. “The exchange of these diverging views and perspectives contribute greatly to the development of essential knowledge and skills, and is the sign of an educated society.”
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