Winning Back Free Speech

Image via UC Berkeley

The right to free expression is not a partisan issue.

Free speech is a right that I have taken for granted my entire life, in part due to the fights that took place long before I was born in the mid-60s on college campuses across the nation. It is the height of strangeness to me that the fight to kill free speech began in the same place that it was born: Berkeley.

Free speech is the ability to express support or belief in ideas that are unpopular, to ideas that may potentially be abhorrent to the general public. In the 60s, people were vocal against the Vietnam War—at a time that young American citizens were drafted into a fight they felt they had no place in. It was instrumental and heavily influenced by the Civil Rights movement during the same time. Our country was forever changed by this movement.

Somewhere in the early 2000s, people began to discuss something new. They started talking about “hate speech.” “Hate speech,” they would say, “is not free speech.” ‘Hate speech’ is something that is speech that causes mental duress to a person hearing it. Because it causes them mental duress, they feel that the speaker must not speak share certain views because they are uncomfortable to hear.

If you just physically rolled your eyes reading that, please know that my reaction is the same. If you want to ensure that discourse doesn’t continue and that we never explore ideas or solutions to changing or rectifying our political movements, continue to promote the concept of “hate speech.”

Free speech is not meant to protect the speech that is popular or the speech that we agree with. The whims of the majority can change from day to day. People forget that the anti-war movement and the Civil rights movements were both unpopular or highly controversial in their times.

And I think that may be one of the most important things to take note of now is that this movement against free speech is going to backfire against its biggest proponents. What will happen when someone turns around and tells them that they find their speech offensive?

We need to dig in our heels and stop this madness, regardless of political affiliation. At some point, you will have ideas that are not popular. If you want your speech to be protected, you need to protect the speech of people you disagree with. The best way to kill an idea is to put it in the spotlight. If you disagree with someone, or you think they are wrong or their views are abhorrent, you let them speak. And then you speak, poke holes in their argument. Explain why they are wrong.

By trying to silence people through bullying, or through removing their rights to free speech, you give their otherwise silly ideas legitimacy.

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