Freedom of speech crucial to democracy




Shelby Collins, Columnist

A few weeks ago, the commonwealth of Virginia declared a state of emergency because of a protest that turned to violence. A group of white supremacists gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate statue in Emancipation Park along with counter protesters. Police declared the protest an “unlawful assembly” and forced the protesters to leave the park.

However, the protesters continued to cause violence, which culminated in a young man driving a car into a group of counter protesters, killing a woman and injuring many others. In response to the events that occurred on Aug. 12, the governor of Virginia tweeted, “A right to speech is not a right to violence.”

This horrible event has been one of many in the recent past of our country. A concerning factor about many of these violent events is that a number of college students are present, with protests often occurring on college campuses.

Universities are meant to be a place of learning. However, it seems they are more frequently serving as a stage for close-minded people to fight out their differences of opinion as opposed to discussing them. Learning requires discussion with those who do not share your viewpoint, but it cannot happen unless everyone’s right to have their own opinion is respected.  

University students have every right to peacefully protest speakers, petition the school and make their opinions known.
However, no one has the right to incur violence on others because of the words they say. In fact, when violence occurs you have infringed on the rights of others. Everyone is entitled to freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech is more than just the right to post your opinions on Facebook. Freedom of speech is the right to think for oneself and discuss ideas for the possibility of someday arriving at truth, allowing everyone to express their thoughts and opinions. It allows us to ask questions of our governments and our higher institutions. But it does not allow us to silence other people’s voices through violence.  

That being said, there is discussion brewing regarding where the freedom to speak one’s mind ends and hate speech begins. Hate speech is a very real problem in this country and— unfortunately—a very real problem on many campuses.

Nevertheless, even the people spewing hateful comments are guaranteed their right to free speech, unless they incite violence in a way that has been deemed “unprotected speech” by the Supreme Court.

Universities have an obligation to create a safe learning space for all students, and they should act to protect students and lead conversations discussing controversial ideas. We must continue to nurture a country that has intellectual discussions and uses words, not violence, to hash out ideas and reach truth.

Freedom of speech is a key element to democracy. When we fear speaking our minds—or worse, lose our right to—we no longer have democracy. Open discussion of ideas is how we advance humankind. We must not allow this mutiny against free speech to prevail on our college campuses. We must continue to allow opposing ideas and healthy debate to lead us closer to truth.



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