Freedom of Speech is the Freedom to Disagree

By Montclarion Staff

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Brittany Longhetano | The Montclarion

Students are shutting down debates and speeches which conform to harmful and divisive rhetoric. Going to college is a privilege, so speaking to a collegiate audience should be considered a privilege as well. That speaker is given a platform in which to share their ideas and what they believe the next generation needs to know or should adhere to. Why would college students want to hear white nationalist speech or listen to senators and people from the presidential administration detail the merits of bills and repeals that would harm hundreds, or even thousands of Americans, citizens or not?

A speaker’s First Amendment rights are not being encroached upon when they are not welcomed with open arms onto a campus. In fact, it could even be considered playing the victim in a situation where they are not the victim. Students have a right to voice their discomfort and complete denial of outlooks and actions that the speaker represents. The First Amendment allows for free speech and freedom of expression, it does not mandate everyone agree with or welcome said speech or expression. While we are entitled to our opinions, they can be morally, ethically, emotionally or psychologically wrong.

In situations where the First Amendment is being “defended,” discomfort is taken as an attack. A proper discussion is not a one-way thing. In the case of an Evangelical student at Georgetown University, the Justice Department stated that it was basically against the First Amendment to stop this student from expressing his views on campus just because multiple students expressed discomfort with him. That student, however, was not engaging in a debate about the shortness of life and what the best way to spend it would be or inviting others to discuss their views on religion. He was in front of a building in a recruiter fashion in a one-sided discussion about our falling short on following God’s command. On a college campus, students expressing discomfort or unhappiness in response to something personal, like religion, should be reason enough for college or university administrators to call for a cease and desist.

College and university campuses are encouraging and safe places to practice religion because there will always be a kindred soul. However, it is not a place for conversion or recruitment. It is a place of academic freedom, if the student wanted to start a discussion about our duty to God, he could have started it in any of his classrooms. He could have broached the topic in his dorms, or his friends’ dorms. There were various places he could have started a debate or discussion, and it would have been welcomed or entertained. His freedom of speech was not infringed upon. He can still have those discussions.

College students should always have a say in what they intake. There should never be a time where a speaker comes onto campus and can simply preach or lecture and receive no feedback. We would not be taking full advantage of the First Amendment that way. There should always be an exchange of values and ideas. A sense of fulfillment and peace should be present after a speaker comes on campus. That speaker should have imparted some useful knowledge onto the students and the students should have shared with the speaker something of importance as well. That cannot happen when narrow-minded thoughts and harmful views are all the speaker has to share.

So, contrary to what some would like to believe, being politically correct is not a crime and insulting a general population is not funny. Commenting on degenerative behaviors that we, as a society, partake in, is funny. Creating a satire of common beliefs or actions might be. If a person wants to be mean, they can insult an individual. It is not advised or recommended, but it is not as detrimental as demeaning an entire group of people for deciding to fight for their right to live freely in this country. Political correctness is necessary, in part because college campuses enjoy the presence of many different races, religious practices and sexual orientations. To attempt to stifle or demean an entire group is to stifle and demean the students who align themselves with those groups as well. Students are the future of the nation, and universities and colleges are our incubators. Places for us to grow and warm up before we make the first true move to make a difference in the world. It is a taint to the integrity of campuses to allow speakers like that onto campus.

Free speech is important. It allows us to engage in conversations that are fun, enlightening and insightful. It helps us grow by giving us insight into some of the realities of the people around us. We can include more into our knowledge of the human experience when we speak, debate and discuss different topics. That is how we know what we say has consequences. What we think becomes what we do and that has repercussions, which can have adverse effects. We should always strive to negatively affect others as little as possible.

That is the part that people who argue that universities are becoming homogeneous in their way of thinking do not understand. Conservatives and liberals have been exercising their freedom of speech since their conception. People can talk while having different views, the problem is when public safety is not taken into consideration. Allowing people who are open about white nationalism, for example, onto campuses creates an unsafe environment because it can coax people with the same ideologies into action. We see this with the increase in racial violence in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election. We do not need to place the public in danger just to express ourselves and speak.

Montclair State’s President Susan Cole expressed the same ideology in her speech. She commented that the public safety of the students is of equal importance to freedom of expression. As Cole said, we must act in a way that is suitable for an “educational and scholarly institution” and that job falls to the students as well as the administration. Student protests should not be seen as moves to restrict the First Amendment rights of another, but them acting on their own First Amendment rights to express their discomfort and have their voices heard or not heard.

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