As the country celebrates Free Speech Week, I'm left wondering: Will students on college campuses will be able to exercise their First Amendment rights to the fullest extent? The basic idea of free speech is not only freedom to express yourself, but the freedom to challenge others. Without this fundamental right, America might look very different than it does today.
Unfortunately, interpretation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights has changed over the years. We are not seeing widespread support for the First Amendment, and that runs counter to our very foundation.
On college campuses, students are being restricted to small areas on campus called “free speech zones” where even passing out pocket-sized Constitutions can be deemed inappropriate. Organizations such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have made it their mission to combat these types of oppressive policies.
These areas seem to be an end-around attempt by schools to avoid accusations of campus censorship. The mere existence of such zones, however, calls into question the university’s reputation as a “marketplace of ideas” when the marketplace is often a small area in a part of campus nobody inhabits.
University campuses are held in high regard not because of their rankings or admissions rate, but because they are supposed to be a bastion of free expression and thought — a place where we can debate our ideas in good faith and have in-depth discussions.
The more radical campus administrations get about censoring or different views, the closer we get to losing the value of these institutions as a whole. Whether it is Evergreen University students shutting down campus speech they disagree with or Berkeley students rioting on campus to shut down speakers, this type of behavior is toxic to public discourse.
We all have a fundamental right to free speech. Imagine if you were passionate about an issue and were not able to protest because that type of speech was simply not allowed. On the other hand, imagine being the subject of a protest that you couldn’t defend yourself from?
Regardless of the issue at hand, there are always multiple views on it, and the right to express yourself peacefully is paramount to the health of our democracy. This is even more important on college campuses, where the next generation of legislators and influence makers are crystallizing their viewpoints. Should free speech zones really be the norm?
I think it would be detrimental to the future of our country if this trend continues.
Free speech as a concept means you are allowed to agree with me or flat out tell me I’m wrong. In a world with speech controls, think of the movements that would be threatened. Speech would essentially be controlled by the political party in power at that time.
It doesn’t matter what your political beliefs are, free speech is the common component to promoting ideas you do like or speaking up against ideas you don’t like. Without free speech, there is no democracy and there is no republic.
It up to us to challenge each other to hear dissenting ideas and make sure all speech is free and protected, regardless of our personal sentiments.
As we celebrate Free Speech Week, let’s not move away from the significance of this document and the rights embedded in it. We all come from different backgrounds and have different views. What makes one view or background more deserving of speech than another is completely subjective.
We believe that all people are equal, that we all have a natural right to free speech so long as it is not used to directly harm other people by inciting violence. Let’s not forget that during Free Speech Week or beyond.
Sergio Hruszko is a 3rd year law student at Quinnipiac University School of Law and is currently in the Civil Justice Clinic. He is also a Media Ambassador for Young Americans for Liberty.