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Free Speech: Point and Counter-Point

Pro: Hate Speech is Free Speech

Richard Spencer, an avid white supremacist, has spoken at several college campuses recently. Is his speech hate speech? Yes. Should it be banned? No.

Some scratch their heads as to why what is perceived by some as hate speech shouldn’t be banned. It has, in fact, resulted in violence on several college campuses. But preventing citizens from speaking their minds or preventing speakers from visiting college campuses altogether will hinder the rights we have under the First Amendment that makes our country the greatest country on Earth.

This ability to say what you want whenever you want–besides yelling “bomb!” on an airplane–and listen to whomever you want, is a valuable right that we as American citizens all have.

College campuses all over the U.S. have recently become this coddled space for “social justice warriors,” with students buying into the idea that any type of speech that is contrary to their own beliefs is hate speech. This makes it increasingly difficult to have controversial speakers come onto college campuses, which has resulted in the current lack of students being challenged inside and outside the classroom. Whether it’s conservative ideas or progressive ideas, it’s extremely important to see both sides of the spectrum.

Many students who actually listen to controversial speakers come out with a new appreciation for the other side of the political and social spectrum. Calm and respectful debate between two disagreeing participants is a greater learning experience than the vacuum of rhetoric that is seen within the media and college campuses daily.

It cannot be stressed enough that different views need to be expressed within the classroom and on college campuses. While it might not change the minds of students, it will teach them valuable skills like respectful discourse and to not run to their “safe space” when a supposedly “hateful” view is expressed.

It’s not just conservative speakers who agree with this point of view. Christina Hoff Sommers, a prominent political author and registered Democrat, is a vigorous advocate of free and open speech. Despite her political leanings, those who disagree with her views about free speech still accuse her of being a bigot, white supremacist, and–ironically–sexist.

Free speech is under attack, both administratively and physically. Those who are proponents of anti-free speech believe that physical violence is justified when they hear ideas that they deem to be hateful. College administrators charge student groups outrageous prices at the last minute when they bring controversial speakers on or don’t allow the speakers to come at all.

This is opposite of what college is meant to be. Being challenged by different ideas is perhaps the best form of mental training for students and citizens of this country alike. Being able to form an argument and opinion, then using facts to back it up is incredibly valuable–and the fact that these so-called intellectuals actually agree that not allowing certain speakers to speak on college campuses is the best way to protect our educational institutions is asinine and will be the demise of the first amendment.

Chris Osborne is a senior majoring in political science and the chapter chair of the Young Americans for Freedom at PLNU.



Con: Unrestricted Free Speech is Not Free at All

One of the many things that makes America great is the ability to speak freely. It allows for controversial political ideas to be voiced without fear of being harmed or legal reprisal. In fifth grade, I remember my teacher Mrs. Ford asking my class why there are laws if citizens in America are free. My fifth grade brain just about exploded–I didn’t understand at all.

She explained to me that in order for others to be free, laws need to be in place so their rights aren’t infringed upon. It made sense to me then, and it makes even more sense to me now. While free speech is one liberty that makes being American great, unrestricted free speech is rather dangerous.

It is quite important to distinguish the difference between unrestricted free speech and restricted free speech. Unrestricted free speech allows for citizens to say what they would like, claiming that their speech is protected under the First Amendment. Restricted free speech is still free speech, but prevents defamation, obscenity, fraudulent misrepresentation, etc.

Erwin Chemerinsky, the Dean of Berkeley Law and expert in Constitutional law, wrote a book called Free Speech On Campus. It delves into the hard topic of free speech on college campuses around the U.S. and the problems schools have faced in history. He points out that hate speech must be protected under the Constitution in order for free speech to be effective.

Chemerinsky also points out that threats and harassment are not protected under the First Amendment, which gives a lot of power to those who feel targeted by neo-Nazi groups as we saw recently in Charlottesville.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Brandenburg v. Ohio case in 1969, inflammatory speech cannot be restricted, but speech that is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such an action” is speech that can be restricted.

This scenario is much like a threat or harassment. The classic example of this is yelling “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. The Brandenburg case established a Brandenburg Test, which looks at intent, imminence, and likelihood of speech that may be seen as speech that incites lawless action.

A fear that I share with many others when it comes to restricting free speech is that intent will not be taken into consideration.

We shouldn’t prevent others from voicing their unpopular opinion at all. Rather, we should protect the vulnerable by strengthening laws that target those who harass and threaten others directly using the Brandenburg Test. However, any legislation that is passed should be looked at under intermediate scrutiny of law in order to preserve what makes free speech so great.

Free speech protects the vulnerable, but sadly, it is used the wrong way too. We need to do what we can in order to stand up for our brothers and sisters.

Cole Curry is a sophomore majoring in political science.


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