In remarks this afternoon at the University of Delaware, former Vice President Joe Biden urged college students to embrace free speech.
Biden, a Democrat, joined John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio and former 2016 presidential candidate, for a special, bipartisan university event. The pair held a conversation in front of a sold-out crowd on ways “to bridge the many political and partisan divides that exist in Washington, DC, today.”
Biden gave the following response to an audience-member question on how to encourage people to “be more accepting of opposing viewpoints”:
You know, it’s interesting — when I was coming up through college and graduate school free speech was the big issue but it was the opposite. It was liberals were shouted down when they spoke and liberals have very short memories — no no, I mean this sincerely. It’s a demonstration that — what’s — what’s been lost here. The First Amendment means what it says. You’re not allowed to stand up and yell fire in this auditorium. But you are allowed to stand up and say, “Biden, I think you’re an absolute jerk,” and “Biden, I think whatever and by the way I think we should do away with,” or “I believe that race is the problem in America.”
I mean, look, what we do is we hurt ourselves badly when we don’t allow the speech to take place.
Now, speech can move to the point of incitement; inciting riots, inciting — but the truth of the matter is: The incitement that occurs before the person even speaks, that falls on those who are engaged in that violence, not on the speaker. And so I got in trouble, as predicted by — by the Gov — because when that first effort at Berkeley [unintelligible], I went public and said I thought they were absolutely wrong denying the ability of the various people to go out and speak.
I mean, look, if your idea is big enough, it should be able to compete and you should be able to listen to another point of view, as virulent as it may be, and reject it, expose it. The best thing to do is let this stuff be exposed. Don’t be like these other people. Don’t give the Trumps of the world the ability to compare you to the Nazis, or you to the racists, or you to — because you’re doing the same thing. You’re silencing. That we mean what we say.
I taught constitutional law at Widener law school for 22 years. The First Amendment is one of the defining features of who we are in the Bill of Rights. And to shut it down in the name of what is appropriate is simply wrong. It’s wrong.
FIRE is encouraged by Biden’s response, and heartened by his recognition of the importance of free expression — both on campus and in larger society. We hope college and university communities nationwide will follow the former vice president’s good counsel.