Joe Biden

Remarks on Recent College Campus Unrest

delivered May 2 2024, White House, Washington, D.C.

Audio mp3 of Address       Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address


Good morning.

Before I head to North Carolina, I wanted to speak a few moments about whatís going on on our college campuses here.

Weíve all seen the images. And they put to the test two fundamental American principles.

Excuse me. [Coughs.]

The first is the right to free speech and for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard.

The second is the rule of law.

Both must be upheld.

We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or squash dissent. The American people are heard. In fact, peaceful protest is in the best tradition of how Americans respond to consequential issues.

But -- But neither are we a lawless country. We are a civil society, and order must prevail.

Throughout our history, weíve often faced moments like this because we are a big, diverse, free-thinking, and freedom-loving nation.

In moments like this, there are always those who rush in to score political points. But this isnít a moment for politics. Itís a moment for clarity.

So, let me be clear. Peaceful protest in America -- violent protest is not protected; peaceful protest is. Itís against the law when violence occurs.

Destroying property is not a peaceful protest. Itís against the law.

Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations -- none of this is a peaceful protest.

Threatening people, intimidating people, instilling fear in people is not peaceful protest. Itís against the law.

Dissent is essential to democracy. But dissent must never lead to disorder or to denying the rights of others so students can finish the semester and their college education.

Look, itís basically a matter of fairness. Itís a matter of whatís right. Thereís the right to protest but not the right to cause chaos.

People have the right to get an education, the right to get a degree, the right to walk across the campus safely without fear of being attacked.

But letís be clear about this as well. There should be no place on any campus, no place in America for antisemitism or threats of violence against Jewish students. There is no place for hate speech or violence of any kind, whether itís antisemitism, Islamophobia, or discrimination against Arab Americans or Palestinian Americans.

Itís simply wrong.

There is no place for racism in America.

Itís all wrong.

Itís un-American.

I understand people have strong feelings and deep convictions. In America, we respect the right and protect the right for them to express that. But it doesnít mean anything goes. It needs to be done without violence, without destruction, without hate, and within the law.

You know, make no mistake: As President, I will always defend free speech. And I will always be just as strong in standing up for the rule of law.

Thatís my responsibility to you, the American people, and my obligation to the Constitution.

Thank you very much.

Question: Mr. President, have the protests forced you to reconsider any of the policies with regard to the region?

President Biden: No.

Thank you.

Question: Mr. President, do you think the National Guard should intervene?

President Biden: No.

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Page Created: 5/2/24

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