The Rising Cost of Free Speech
by Madeline Barnes on Friday, January 22nd, 2016
With imminent college enrollment for a quarter of the school, we will inevitably be burdened with an increasing sense of responsibility. Whether in class or with friends, we must be accountable for our decisions and actions, and take responsibility for our voice. Freedom of speech is not only our right, but also our obligation when asked to provide an honest opinion or convey an idea. However, I believe the right of free speech should only stretch so far. Yes, it is a right to which we are entitled, yet if the message is perceived to be threatening, or places one’s mental or physical well-being in jeopardy, then I believe that limitations should be enforced.
According to Campus Reform, 38% of adults interviewed in a Huffington Post/YouGov poll agreed with “making sure that students have an absolute right to free speech, even if that means allowing offensive or racist comments.” However, they were edged out by the 43 percent who believed that “making sure that students have an environment free from discrimination, even if that means placing some limits on what students can say” is of primary importance. We all have our own racial, cultural and political viewpoints that we have a right to express. However, when the expression of those opinions begins to jeopardize the personal safety or mental health of fellow students, then a line has been crossed and free speech becomes harassment.
72% of those polled agreed with the notion of a university president stepping in and addressing racist or discriminatory incidents on campus (Campus Reform). However, would intervention in these situations violate our right to free speech? There are organizations such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), whose goal is to “effectively and decisively defend[s] the fundamental rights [of students and faculty members]” (thefire.org). Supporting freedom of conscience and the right to one’s own beliefs, the organization believes that mandatory diversity training, in which students are instructed in an “officially-approved ideology” is an act of conformity that goes against our liberties. I agree that forcing students to conform to a belief or ideology that they do not support is not the solution to the issue of hate-speech, yet when it comes to race and discrimination, action must be taken.
It is almost impossible to erase discriminatory language and opinions in the real world. It is an unfortunate fact that some people practice intolerance towards others based on race, sexual orientation, or political alignment, yet we must accept this reality. However, on college campuses, students are still growing and learning, and I believe that such an environment should ensure their safety and well-being by providing some safeguards against offensive views and opinions. If providing that assurance requires addressing the use of discriminatory language on a college campus, then 72% of respondents would agree that it is a legitimate effort (CampusReform).
While it is often maintained that “rules that ban or punish speech based on its content cannot be justified” (University of Delaware Library), I support the concept of sufficiently limiting free speech to secure the safety and health of those potentially offended. We are all entitled to our own opinions, viewpoints and ideas, which includes taking responsibility, however we are also entitled to feel comfortable in an environment and not become the target of discriminatory language or hateful free speech.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=7600