(Reuters) – Conservative commentator Ann Coulter says she will proceed with an anti-immigration lecture next week at the University of California, Berkeley, although school officials have told organizers to cancel the event over safety concerns.
The April 27 lecture had raised the prospect of a repeat of violent protests that broke out on the Berkeley campus in February, when left-wing demonstrators successfully prevented Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing writer, from giving a speech.
“What are they going to do? Arrest me?” Coulter said in a Fox News interview late on Wednesday. “I’m definitely giving the speech.”
Coulter, one of the country’s best-known conservative pundits, plans to speak about her 2015 book, “Adios, America!: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole.”
Coulter views immigration-friendly policies as part of a left-wing plot to create more Democratic voters in the long term, and her book is sharply critical of illegal immigration, particularly from Mexico.
The Young America’s Foundation, one of three conservative groups organizing the lecture, castigated what it said was an attempt by a taxpayer-funded university to suppress free speech.
“This is as clear-cut a case as it gets that public universities are using taxpayer dollars to shut down conservative speech, while allowing liberal speech only,” Spencer Brown, a director at the foundation, wrote in an article about the episode on the foundation’s website.
The university said it was trying to reschedule the event for September, and that its decision had been motivated by safety, not ideology.
“We believe in unqualified support to the First Amendment,” Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof told the Washington Post, referring to the part of the U.S. Constitution that protects free speech. “But we also have an unqualified focus on safety of our students.”
Berkeley is known as the birthplace of the student-led Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. As with other schools, it has had to juggle in recent months between student opposition to what some describe as “hate speech,” ideological openness and student safety.
In recent months, several conservative speakers have been met with disruptive, sometimes violent protests when invited to speak at universities with liberal-leaning student bodies.
Black-clad protesters set fires and smashed windows as they shut down Yiannopoulos’ lecture at Berkeley in February. Republican President Donald Trump, who had taken office just days earlier, threatened to cut off funding to the school.
On Tuesday, police arrested at least three people protesting an appearance at Alabama’s Auburn University by Richard Spencer, a prominent white nationalist.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Frances Kerry)