By Toby Hollertz
College campuses are currently accused harboring safe spaces and violating free speech. Various campuses around the country have declined speakers for being too extreme. Juniata College, being in the middle of nowhere, is far-removed from most outside influences. This has allowed most of the political drama to stay off-campus as well. Free speech, depending on personal opinion, is either a positive aspect or negative aspect of the Constitution.
The dictionary defines hate speech as “speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, or disability”. A physics POE, Josh Taylor said, “Hate speech can be defined as hate speech as soon as it starts to offend a person or group of people.”
The current debate in the United States is whether free speech should be limited or if it should be protected. It is important to understand the major themes behind both arguments. Owen Gallagher, a computer science POE, said, “There is a way of communicating that can hurt others or a way to nicely get your point across.” Either way, harmful speech is prevalent around the world and people do not always hold back when communicating their point.
Eugene Volokh of the New York Times defends all forms of free speech by quoting Justice Hugo Black: “The First Amendment protection must be accorded to the ideas we hate or sooner or later they will be denied to the ideas we cherish.” If any speech is allowed to be silenced by the government, then any speech can be silenced by the government.
Perhaps limiting free speech could have an impact on the United States’ current political environment. Taylor said, “Trump would never had become president if free speech was limited. Most of Trump’s ideas came from social media. Limited speech could have censored various posts online. Changing the course of the American politics.”
In defense of limited speech, the author, Jeremy Waldron, wrote a novel, The Harm in Free Speech. Waldron writes, “Hate speech and defamation are actions performed in public, with a public orientation, aimed at undermining public goods.” Waldron claims free speech should be limited because it is in the public’s best interest. For example, in France, the presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, is under investigation for posting graphic photos on Twitter in an effort to spread the fear of immigrants and Muslims (Guarasico). This act may be the deciding factor that prevents Le Pen from becoming the president of France.
But does limiting free speech really matter? On campus, Amanda Matta, an art history and museum studies POE, said, “Donald Trump would still have been elected president, even after all those awful things he said, because the connotations behind the language still exists.” The meaning behind Donald Trump’s speech would have still existed, along with the anger America felt.
Two universities in the United States have recently had their own debates about free speech. Both campuses have given very different answers to the debate.
The first school, the University of Chicago, recently set out its welcome letters to all incoming freshmen. The letter claimed that the school “does not support so-called trigger warnings for potential discussions students might find offensive” (Schaper). Historically, college spaces have generally been more liberal and have begun to be intolerant towards speakers they describe as conservative or practicing “hate speech”. Tess Deutermann, an exploratory student, believes that when speech is used in an unconstructive way, or a way intended to hurt one person or group of people it “shouldn’t be protected under US law” and would not support colleges like the University of Chicago.”
Extreme right-winged speakers invited to college campuses have seen an increase in violent protests. At the University of Berkeley in California, protests of Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor at Breitbart News Network, caused the administration to cancel the event (Park & Lah). Conservatives, like Yiannopoulos, claim that this violates his freedom of speech, while liberals claim his speech to be creating an environment of ‘imminent danger’ (Parker).
According to the Supreme Court case ruling in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), if the speech can be directly linked to the production of violence, it is illegal. Similarly, to the Supreme Court ruling, Owen Gallagher, a computer science POE, believes speech should be “handled on a case-by-case basis in a way that does not restrict communication between people nor produces violence”.
Based on the current political crisis, certain spaces might not seem as safe as they claim to be. Juniata could have a reputation as being either safe or harmful when it comes to free speech. Not all people believe that these safe spaces work.
“Some Juniata students”, says Tess Deutermann, “could be described as oversensitive and close themselves off to people who don’t have the same values that they do, losing the opportunity for open discussion.” In the years to come, Juniata will have the opportunity to be a champion of free speech or a defendant of human dignity.
Photo by Alex Loughran: https://www.flickr.com/photos/46923641@N02/4728301934