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Free to Speak Freely

by Kevin Saez
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Editorial Cartoon by Christian Ray Blaza

On Thursday, Feb. 26, the Class IV Student Government Association organization Students for Justice in Palestine extended an email invitation to other student organizations to join them at their event, The Activist and the Professor, which took place on Monday, March 2.
The Class II organization Hillel sent an email in response, expressing their concern that the event, which allowed panelists to discuss non-mainstream perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, could possibly jeopardize Montclair State University’s collective initiative for interfaith peace and that the panel possibly discriminated against Jewish interests by not including the mainstream point-of-view. They also announced plans for a multi-organization coalition to prevent this kind of discrimination from occurring again.
For the next few days, SGA organizations and individual students were in debate over the two emails, considering whether SJP should hold the event and whether Hillel should have questioned their upcoming event. In the end, Hillel retracted many of their statements, claiming that they were speaking out of their concern for safety and maintaining interfaith connections across campus.
Hillel has announced that they may hold an event that presents the mainstream perspective in response to SJP’s event and could possibly hold a joint event with SJP to discuss the issue further at a later point in time. They also dropped the idea to start a coalition to prevent discrimination and have rethought the idea that SJP could have been discriminating against them by not including their perspective in their event.
This is a touchy issue for many people, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an intensely personal and emotional issue, especially for these two groups. We believe that Hillel has effectively reassessed the situation and acted well by sending representatives to The Activist and the Professor, now eliminating any plans for a coalition against discrimination. They have taken the time to consider the situation from all sides and have revoked some of their previous concerns, which they now realize were largely unfounded.
With that being said, Hillel’s initial charge of discrimination is a rather serious accusation and thus should be treated seriously as part of a larger issue: whether SGA organizations should have political stances.
One of Hillel’s major concerns was that SJP was taking a strong political stance that conflicted with combined peace efforts at the university. Yet, SJP is not wrong to take a political stance, as several SGA organizations in the past, including Young Americans for Liberty, Students for a Democratic Society and even current clubs such as Femvolution are all politically-based organizations who have had political events without meeting opposition, although obviously not everyone on campus agrees with their stances on current affairs and political issues. SJP, a non-religious organization, is likewise entitled to holding politically-based events, just as every SGA organization is, whether or not other organizations on campus agree with their political stances.
Student organizations have the right to hold politically-based events without all varying opinions on the matter being present. Groups across campus have the ability to exercise their freedom of speech and their freedom to cosponsor with whatever organizations they choose. Questioning these rights shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the American Bill of Rights and the SGA constitution.
Disagreeing with a political stance or feeling excluded from a political discussion that is open to the entire student body and staff is not grounds for accusations of discrimination and though the organizations involved have realized this, we believe that it is important for every SGA organization to keep this in mind.
Freedom of speech does not depend on whether your opinion is outside of the mainstream or whether you preface your statements with considerations from opponents. While addressing one specific side of an argument in an event could possibly result in a less comprehensive gathering, SGA organizations are not required to make political discussions unbiased, as most political discussions are inherently slanted. Look at most mainstream media outlets, for example, which lean toward both the left and right, yet are allowed to broadcast the news through these perspectives. The same is true for SGA organizations and it is important for organizations to consider this before they address concerns with other organizations.
In order to have freedom of speech, you have to accept that this right is extended to everyone, including those with whom you disagree. In order to utilize your right, you must allow others to use it as well and if organizations of the SGA follow this principle, then future misunderstandings can likely be avoided.

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