By Miriam Merrill
Freedom of speech may be guaranteed through the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, but that does not mean it comes easily. Domestically we find with more frequency that opposing sides call for the silencing of their disputant rather than sitting down to have civil conversations. This seems especially true on college campuses.
Healy v. James, decided in 1972, was perhaps the very first Supreme Court case to apply the First Amendment specifically to college campuses. It was decided that an anti-war organization, Students for a Democratic Society, was “important because it says that a university cannot restrict an organization that it disagrees with.” However, in today’s world activists seem to do whatever they can to overturn this precedence.
Just a week ago a letter was published in the Salt Lake Tribune announcing a group of students’ intent to shut down conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro’s upcoming speech at the University of Utah. Author Ian Decker said, “we intend to exercise our free speech in the boldest and most unapologetic way we can.” Readers may have found it ironic that these students were attempting to use said freedom of speech to deny someone else of theirs.
As this particular incident illustrates, denying freedom of speech to those with whom one disagrees seems to be especially apparent on college campuses. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, a self-identified centrist, said, “American universities these days seem to be committed to every kind of diversity – except intellectual diversity… It’s an attitude of self-righteousness that says we are so pure, we’re so morally superior, we cannot bear to hear an idea with which we disagree. Freedom of speech and thought is not just for…ideas that we find comfortable. It’s for ideas that we find offensive.”
While it may be natural to avoid ideas that are uncomfortable to you, blatantly denying someone of their freedom of speech is actually harmful to the both of you. Findings by Pew indicate that America is more polarized than ever. It seems both political sides call for unity, but neither instigate opportunities for elevated dialogue that would create the strongest solutions and policy. Granting others their right to speak contrarily to what you believe – and even occasionally listening – will only help you foster well-rounded opinions of your own. Genuinely seeking to understand helps humanize those with whom you disagree, creating more harmony between sides than silencing your opposition ever would.
In the end, it’s either freedom of speech for all of us, or freedom of speech for none of us. One ideology won’t win in the end as differences of opinion will always exist. So if you want to keep your ability to freely express opinions and beliefs, you must grant others the right to do the same.