Troy Worden, president Berkeley College Republicans president, at a press conference about the group’s lawsuit against Cal in April. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The student group that sued UC Berkeley over its treatment of conservative speakers is trying again to bring a controversial figure to campus. The Berkeley College Republicans (BCR), along with Young America’s Foundation, have invited political commentator and writer Ben Shapiro to speak at Cal on Sept. 14.

The group selected Shapiro “because we know from his extensive campus speaking history that he can effectively communicate conservative views to students. Additionally, Mr. Shapiro welcomes debate,” wrote BCR spokesman Naweed Tahmas in a statement.

Shapiro speaks often on college campuses, frequently taking aim at what he views as rampant liberal indoctrination in academia. He published a book called “Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth” in 2004, at age 20. A former Breitbart editor, Shapiro is also known for his strong Zionist stance and belief that most Muslims are radical. He has received criticism from the left for his refusal to acknowledge transgender people’s gender identities — and has said he experiences anti-Semitic online harassment from the right because he does not support President Donald Trump.

BCR has billed the September event as “Ben Shapiro vs. Berkeley,” and views it as a “critical test” for the UC Berkeley administration, said Tahmas.

“It will be a test of whether or not the administration caves into the demands of the violent left,” the statement said. “As the nation watches the former home of the Free Speech Movement betray its legacy, the university has an opportunity to reclaim its reputation by standing for the rights of all students, including conservatives, to hear thought-provoking speakers such as Ben Shapiro.”

The lawsuit brought in April against UC Berkeley by BCR and Young America’s Foundation, which is sponsoring the Shapiro event, alleges that the university stifled free speech by placing restrictions on where and when prominent conservatives David Horowitz and Ann Coulter could speak on campus. Neither event ended up happening.

UC Berkeley has rejected the allegations, maintaining that that the university tried in good faith to accommodate the groups’ requests and acted lawfully in response to security threats. A previous speaking event organized by BCR was cancelled when a mass of anti-fascist protesters descended on campus, destroying property and hitting some people with sticks. That February event, where far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos planned to talk about illegal immigration, set off a chain of violent rallies and counter-demonstrations in Berkeley.

A spokesman for UC Berkeley said Shapiro will be allowed to speak on campus.

“We want to state unequivocally that Mr. Shapiro is welcome on the Berkeley campus and that we will work with the student organization to ensure they can host a safe and successful event,” said spokesman Dan Mogulof in a statement.

He said BCR told the university about its plans on Monday and requested a venue that can hold 500 people at 7 p.m. on Sept. 14.

“We are confident that arrangements can and will be made for Mr. Shapiro to speak on the Berkeley campus, with the exact date and time depending only on the availability of an appropriate venue and the recommendations of law enforcement professionals,” the statement said.

Some of Shapiro’s campus lectures have sparked protests. In 2106, Shapiro gave a talk called “When Diversity Becomes a Problem” at Cal State Los Angeles, where administrators had previously tried to cancel the event, and was met by protesters who reportedly blocked the entrance to the room where he was speaking and pulled the fire alarm. Young America’s Foundation also sued the university in that case.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...