Speaker Ben Shapiro addresses constitutional rights

Lillian Zeng | Daily Trojan

An estimated 1,200 guests filled Bovard Auditorium to listen to conservative commentator Ben Shapiro Thursday evening. Despite protests outside the venue, the event by Young Americans for Freedom faced no disruptions.

YAF Chairman Maxwell Brandon delivered opening remarks, welcoming Shapiro to USC and thanking security staff at the event.

As Shapiro made his way to the podium, some audience members erupted into applause and chanted, “U.S.A! U.S.A!,” while others shouted, “Shapiro for President.”

Shapiro began his talk by addressing the protestors outside of the event.

“A lot of Trojans don’t necessarily have a soft spot for me,” Shapiro said. “I was noticing some folks chanting outside. Apparently I’m a racist, a bigot and a homophobe … I’m also a neo-Nazi, which makes the yarmulke real weird. All this is sheer nonsense and garbage — I’m happy to respond to any such accusations.”

While Shapiro took issue with how the protestors characterized him, he welcomed their presence.

Shapiro also noted that prominent left-wing figures such as feminist writer Gloria Steinem, former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and political activist Angela Davis had previously been guests at the University.

“I’m apparently a lot more controversial than Angela Davis, who is an actual Stalinist,” Shapiro said. “Angela Davis is welcome on this campus, but it takes a hell of a lot more to get me here.”

While Davis has stated that she is a communist, she has never explicitly stated that she is a Stalinist.

Shapiro’s main point centered on the importance of constitutional freedoms and how he believes they are currently under assault. According to him, freedom is threatened by advocates of identity politics, who believe that collective social justice overrides individual justice.

“Negative rights are rights that you have from the intervention of others; positive rights are rights you have from the goods and services of others,” Shapiro said. “The problem, you see, with positive rights, is that they are not self-fulfilling. The United States is based on negative rights … the U.S. Constitution is based on negative rights.”

Shapiro also championed the idea of individual liberty and the threat of the imposition of certain rights restrictions. He cited the case of state courts mandating bakeries to make cakes for same-sex weddings, calling the directive a violation of fundamental freedoms.

“Just because you don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean you have the right to oppress them,” Shapiro said. 

Shapiro also argued that the easiest way to restrict freedom of speech is by labeling it as hate speech. He then praised USC for allowing the event to take place, stating that the University “did the right thing.”

Although Shapiro agreed that some speech is objectively hateful, such as the use of the N-word, he clarified that he doesn’t want the government to determine what speech can and cannot be expressed.

He mentioned the recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearings involving Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who accused the judge of sexual assault. Shapiro urged the audience to acknowledge that Kavanaugh is entitled to a presumption of innocence and due process of law.

“When [President Donald] Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh, I was lukewarm at best. But now, I want [him] enshrined on the Supreme Court,” Shapiro said, to which audience members responded with applause.

Shapiro also mentioned a recent campus controversy surrounding Sol Price School of Public Policy Professor James Moore, who sent an email reply to Price students last Thursday stating “accusers sometimes lie.” The response was sent to the entire Price school. Shapiro criticized the subsequent student-led protest calling for Moore’s resignation.

Following Shapiro’s speech, nine attendees asked him questions. Those who disagreed with the speaker were invited to line up first; however, many who asked questions sided with Shapiro. Questions ranged from Shapiro’s stance on the transgender community to the existence of a deity.

One student challenged Shapiro’s notion of free speech, claiming that some of his speech incited violence.

“Well you heard my speech tonight. Do you feel like my speech can incite violence?” Shapiro asked. “If I’m not telling someone to commit violence, I’m not inciting them to violence.”

The commentator was also questioned on his stance on transgender individuals. In the past, Shapiro has called being transgender a mental illness, despite the World Health Organization’s decision to no longer call it such.

“The trans community is trying to purvey that people’s sex is malleable … I fundamentally disagree with that point,” Shapiro said. “Is everyone in the United States entitled to the same rights? Of course. But your right does not extend to forcing me to call you what you want me to call you … That violates my freedom of speech.”

Following the event, YAF Chairman Brandon called the event a success in an interview with the Daily Trojan.

“Conservatives on campus were able to find out that there are other people that think like them, not just a handful,” Brandon said. “I think we also achieved the discussion we were going for.”

Shapiro is set to speak at the University at Buffalo on Oct. 8 for the next stop of his college tour.

Erica Hur contributed to this report.