The Truth about Freedom of Speech
Question of the week:
With the increasing polarization of political dialogue in the US, resentment is steadily growing between the parties. With political correctness, protests, and increasingly hyperbolic rhetoric in politics, is there an inappropriate use of one’s freedom of speech? Should the standard be different on college campuses?
Brendan Salyards ‘20– Gettysburg College Democrats
The United States is perhaps the nation with the broadest interpretation of what Freedom of Speech means. In 1977, Frank Collins, the leader of the National Socialist Party of America, made the decision to lead a march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie. Skokie was home to a large Jewish population, many of whom had experienced the horrors of the death camps first hand. The residents of the town took issue with this show of force by the Neo-Nazis, which included the display of the Swastika. Collins’ request for a permit to conduct the march was blocked and the case was eventually brought before the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that it was within the rights of the Nazis as Americans to conduct a march despite the concerns of the locals. If Neo-Nazis are permitted to protest in a town of Holocaust survivors, surely Americans are permitted to protest those whom they fear will take away their freedoms.
40 years later, over 500,000 Americans took to the streets of Washington D.C. to make their voices heard. This constitutionally protected right allows us, as Americans, to express our concerns, voice our opinions, and contribute to national conversations. Freedom of Speech is a fundamental right. Although it may not please those in power, the opposition party is always free to express itself. While this freedom does not entitle others to threaten their neighbors or express hate for the purpose of being hateful, it does mean that Americans can continue to express their approval or dissent for those in power. In debate, one must separate him/herself from his/her ideas and attack his/her opponent’s ideas rather than the person across the aisle. On college campuses, as much as anywhere else, we should be free to express ourselves. That being said, we must continue to maintain decency and decorum so that the debate which is conducted is productive rather than destructive. Nothing is gained by insulting the appearance of another, by shaming the disabled, or by making false and unsubstantiated claims simply to spite one’s opponent.
The freedom of speech which we all share is a great gift, paid for in the blood of many great men and women. Let us not diminish their sacrifice by using their gift for malice. Instead, let us conduct deep, perhaps even heated debates on the issues but, when the gloves come off, we must be able appreciate that our opponents breathe the same air, walk the same streets, and desire to do what they believe is best for our county and its people. Let us rise above the tendency to spurn our critics and instead live by the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.
Alex Tottser ’18 – Young Americans for Liberty
Frederick Douglass once remarked, “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” At Young Americans for Liberty, we believe that the freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important rights that we have as a nation. Freedom of speech can be nasty and even deplorable at times, however, it provides us with the ability to speak freely and voice our own opinions. At YAL, we hold the ideal that the best way to combat ugly rhetoric is through the expression of ideals and principles, not through restriction. The same goes for college campuses. In our view, freedom of speech is a basic right. It should have no geographical or institutional boundaries.
Caleb Parker ’18 – Gettysburg College Republicans
“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.” President Eisenhower lead the United States through one of the most tumultuous times in American history. The art of compromise, collecting bipartisanship, was his strategy and it must be ours once again. America is divided by party, ethnicity, gender, class and education. Our diversity should be embraced, however, many use it as our downfall. Open dialogue needs to continue to be the forefront to voice concern and determine a strategic answer to the issues ahead.
Freedom of speech also means the freedom to listen, and political correctness is often thrown into the mix to distract citizens from the main discussion. Americans do not need political correctness, they need mutual understanding, respect and open dialogue. Remember when your parents told you to put yourself into someone else’s shoes? This is a lesson we teach five year olds, but yet one our Congress fails to grasp.
Across this nation, we are all different from sea to shining sea, but America is united in diversity. E pluribus unum-out of one, many. Our national motto should guide us to embrace our differences so that when we are on college campuses, we should be free to voice our beliefs while respecting the voices of others. Benjamin Franklin stated famously to an opponent, “I may not agree with your viewpoint, but will defend your right to say it.” As a society, we should lift each other up to succeed. Of course there will be discourse and divide, however, there is no room for hate. How does a rural farmer from Wyoming live under the same flag as a Wall Street broker in New York? Understanding and embracing different lifestyles and viewpoints has always been the forefront of our society.
The polarizing viewpoints today are only making the wound larger. This is an issue that both parties are responsible for and no one is immune to this. The answer is to look back in history at how our ancestors overcame conflict in a unified approach and apply that to the current state of our nation. How did the Founding Fathers compromise on the Constitution? How did the chiefs of staff compromise on D-Day? Open dialogue and discussion has always been the answer, and it must continue to be so today. College campuses are an amazing opportunity to grow intellectually and emotionally by listening to different viewpoints. Here is where students find themselves and look to the person they wish to become. As a college community let us have open dialogue that is respectful and uplifts our society and let this be a guide for the rest of America and the world. Let us be the generation that ends the divide.
Alex Engelsman ’18 – Gettysburg College
Not including the legal limitations on the freedom of speech (copyright, obscenity, etc.), there is no inappropriate use of an individual’s speech. However, there is in fact a necessary distinction that needs to be made. There is an ineffective use of your freedom of speech that often goes overlooked. People should be free to say what they believe, because that is the only way to bring out new ideas and opinions – a person’s opinion, and what they say, doesn’t need to be tried and tested to be good, or bad, or right, or wrong. However, there are ineffective ways of conveying your opinions and
Furthermore, we have to state an assumption: the purpose in voicing your opinion, in the freedom of speech, is to convince others of your opinion. If that is the intention of your speech then we have to admit there are effective and ineffective ways of accomplishing that goal. The most obvious example of the wrong way is mudslinging. By calling your opponent, or people you disagree with, names or throwing insults at them will more likely than not make them defensive and unwilling to engage with you. This is something both sides of the aisle are equally guilty of, nonetheless, it has become a serious issue as it detracts from debate. To effectively use your freedom of speech, it is imperative to discuss ideas and ultimately accomplish each person’s objectives in the most efficient manner, otherwise nothing will ever be
It is our responsibility to make sure everyone gets to speak – but it is the speaker’s responsibility to be heard.
The views and opinions expressed are the students and the organizations whom they represent and do not necessarily represent the views of The Eisenhower Institute or Gettysburg College.