EDUCATION

Opinion: War of the Words: How college campuses have undermined the foundational principles of free speech, and why it matters

Grayson Wolf
Oxford Stories
mailto:gcwolf@go.olemiss.edu

The Founding Fathers of this country held a common, unifying vision of a republic that valued the free and flowing exchange of ideas. The principle of free speech has allowed for innovation, creativity, and intellectual freedom to flourish all across this land.

College campuses in America have served as strongholds for the advancement of these ideals for centuries. But in recent years, these ideals have become devalued and forgotten within these institutions. Free speech is under attack, but why?

Sensitivity, feelings, and emotions have suppressed people’s abilities to engage in civil discourse with those they happen to disagree with. This trend has become so extreme, the constitutionally protected right to free speech has come under attack.

Speakers of various schools of ideology, particularly those who identify as conservative, have had their rights to free speech suppressed. This has been accomplished through speech codes, violent protests, riots, and the outright refusal by school administrations to be allowed on campuses.

In an effort to achieve an idealistic environment built upon inclusivity and tolerance, campuses have gone so far as to institute unconstitutional hate speech codes that limit one’s right to speak freely. According to free speech watchdog FIRE’s 2019 spotlight on speech codes, 28.5 percent of 466 universities surveyed have speech codes that “seriously infringe upon the free speech rights of students.”

The report also revealed that 61.2 percent of academic institutions have “yellow light” ratings, which FIRE designates as policies that “restrict expression protected under the First Amendment.” This paints a horrifying illustration of the administrative neglect and degradation of free speech on college campuses.

In September of 2017, conservative political pundit Ben Shapiro’s appearance at UC Berkeley was subject to violent riots and outrage from radical leftists determined to prevent him from speaking freely. Several protestors were arrested for possessing weapons, and even assaulting a police officer, all in response to someone having an opposing perspective on various political and social issues. An estimated $600,000 was spent to protect Shapiro and ensure that he could freely express his ideas.

Violence was even more severe on campus in February of that year when controversial provocateur Milo Yiannopolous was scheduled to speak. Riots occurred days before, resulting in the destruction of public property, and he was barred from speaking on campus.

Most recently, Michael Knowles, a writer for the conservative media outlet The Daily Wire, was sprayed with a bleach-like substance from a water gun after giving a speech on the biological differences between men and women at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. Thankfully, the substance was not dangerous, but still paints a frightening reality of discourse in the modern age.

When people are destroying public property, assaulting police officers, and shooting speakers who hold beliefs they don’t like with questionably toxic substances, it becomes evidently clear the notion of discourse and debate is dead. When people are silenced for expressing controversial ideas, the very principles that allow a free society to thrive and prosper are in grave danger.

Many opposed to the flourishing of free speech on the grounds of academic institutions may wonder “Why does this matter? Speech that’s perceived as offensive SHOULD be banned, shouldn’t it?”

In an idealistic world, sure. It would be amazing if we could simply just limit hateful and inflammatory speech, and live in a society where absolutely no one is offended by alternative perspectives on various topics of discussion. But this expectation is simply not realistic, and inherently oppressive.

To entrust a moral authority to designate what speech is hateful and what speech isn’t is a horrifying notion of tyranny. It’s been ruled on multiple occasions by the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, that hate speech is protected speech under the First Amendment.

Matal vs. TAM resulted in a unanimous decision by a Supreme Court ruling that hate speech is indeed protected speech. One of the very assets of free speech is that it allows people to condemn morally reprehensible speech, and hold those accountable for expressing it.

One of the many aspects of the United States of America that makes it the greatest country on Earth is that the very right to speak freely and engage in the flow of ideas is guaranteed in writing. It is a right that is guaranteed to every American from sea to shining sea.

When we let this precious right die in the name of feelings and emotions rooted out of collective anger of the mob, we no longer have a thriving free society. We no longer have a republic. We have a totalitarian society built upon cultural Marxist ideals that rivals that of the Soviet Union or North Korea.

The rights of free speech disregarded and suppressed on college campuses is the start of a possibly dangerous domino effect that could destroy the national identity of America that makes it a shining light of hope to the world. While this all may seem frightening, as it should, there is a solution.

Talk.

Have conversations with people you disagree with. Challenge yourself to view issues from various viewpoints and perspectives.

Don’t be afraid to speak up for what you’re truly passionate about. And remember it’s OK to have a mind of your own. It’s OK to be an individual with your own thoughts and ideas. It’s OK to be free.

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