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Crimes not protected by First Amendment

As protests have swept college campuses over the Israel-Hamas war, prompting more than 2,000 arrests since April 17, constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams said First Amendment free speech protections do not cover crimes such as vandalism and barricading inside campus buildings.

Abrams spoke to his son, the host of “Dan Abrams Live,” about claims that free speech protects the crimes happening on campuses during protests, including tent encampments and building takeovers.

“The notion that there’s some sort of First Amendment violation when the police are called, where students have entered into, broken into and seized a building belonging to the university, the notion that that’s protected by the spirit of the First Amendment, it’s not,” he said.

He said public universities are allowed to engage in a sort of self-preservation.

“They don’t just have to sit and not be able to do classes because of noise and not be able to continue in an educational process, fulfilling their educational mission because students are not playing by the rules of the game,” he said. “The notion that anything that we’ve seen in any of the televised and nationally discussed — essentially assaults by students on their universities and colleges — none of that involves the suppression of First Amendment protected activity.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom echoed the sentiments on X this week, reacting to violence and barricades set up at UCLA that resulted in police shooting students with stun grenades, chemical agents, and rubber bullets and beating them with batons.

“I condemn the violence at UCLA last night,” he said. “The law is clear: The right to free speech does not extend to inciting violence, vandalism, or lawlessness on campus.”

At Columbia University, when police made 100 arrests and removed an on-campus tent encampment, University President Minouche Shafik said in a statement the encampment “violates all of the new policies, severely disrupts campus life and creates a harassing and intimidating environment for many of our students.”

“Students and outside activists breaking Hamilton Hall doors, mistreating our Public Safety officers and maintenance staff, and damaging property are acts of destruction, not political speech,” said Shafik. “Many students have also felt uncomfortable and unwelcome because of the disruption and antisemitic comments made by some individuals, especially in the protests that have persistently mobilized outside our gates.”

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