Lanterns: Free Speech Under Assault

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Free Speech Under Assault

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States declares the following:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

For our purposes in this piece, the most important part is in regards to freedom of speech. The Constitution makes it very clear, the government cannot restrict or abridge the constitutional right to freedom of speech. However, it is important to note that the rights guaranteed to citizens by the Constitution apply to the government and not necessarily the private sector. However, in opposition to that, the culture of America has permeated the freedoms and liberties set forth in the Constitution into the private lives of America, extending rights such as freedom of speech into our everyday lives.

The Supreme Court has in several instances limited the right to free speech. The biggest case is Schenck v. United States, the case that discusses the infamous phrase, “you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater.” Essentially, the ruling of the case states that freedom of speech can be limited in a case of public safety. An individual shouting “fire” in a public, crowded theater would cause a rush, fear and therefore potential stampede, which could cause the direct injury of others. This decision came down in 1919, and has stood since. Several other types of speech are not protected by the Constitution, including obscenity and child pornography, though this is not considered to be highly controversial, as most understand these are types of “expression” that should never be public. 

The other line that has been recently drawn is in regards to private schools. Although this has never reached the Supreme Court, private institutions claim that they have the right to restrict speech that they deem to be “offensive” or harmful to public order. However, the questions are, should they restrict that speech? And how do you determine what is “offensive?” This is a difficult distinction to make, but that hasn’t stopped private institutions from doing just that.

There was a period of time in the United States where universities, both private and public, were supposed to be the main hotspots of free speech, new thoughts, and new ideas. Students were supposed to be able to express themselves however they wanted, whether that be through taking whatever classes or majors they wanted, joining whatever organizations they wanted, or holding mass rallies for a cause. Americans saw this frequently when protests of the Vietnam War broke out, and the avalanche never stopped after. Students would become the basis for many protests across the country over the past few decades, from civil rights to the Iraq War, to now today being against Donald Trump for President.

Most have noticed that these protests or types of speech have not been shut down by the universities, despite the sometimes aggressive nature of these protests. However, that is not to say that universities and other public places have not tried to shut down speech. There is a recent trend in the United States that Conservative or Republican speech, protests or speakers are being disproportionately shut down in public, especially in universities and colleges. Yes, we all know that a super majority of colleges and universities, including their faculty, staff, and professors lean liberal. No one disputes that, however, it appears that there is a growing trend of these liberal institutions striking out against Conservative speech. And that is absolutely unacceptable and disturbing. 

Let’s look at recent facts to address this situation. Believe it or not, the Constitution of the United States is still highly respected and protected in the United States. We even have a day, September 17, dedicated to the Constitution. In recent years, however, there have been several cases in colleges and universities in which students were told they could not hand out free copies of the Constitution because they had not been given prior approval. These students have been threatened with arrest due to this. Two cases that immediately come to mind are at Modesto Junior College and at Grand Valley State University, though there are more.

Another situation is that of universities trying to suppress Conservative speakers. The two most common are Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos. Milo has found himself in trouble recently, but up until this past week was only known as being an “alt-right” “provacateur” who spewed “hate speech.” (The quotations show those are the words of others, and I strongly disagree with them). Milo himself would note that while the universities could not directly block him from attending when student organizations hired him to speak, they would block him by at the last minute claiming the need to add more security costs. Of course you also had your fair share of administrators and professors speaking out, with recent tactics being left wing students and professors scheduling other talks to keep students away from Milo’s talks at universities. Trying to restrict the options of students seeing someone speak is unacceptable and a dig at their own freedom of speech rights.

These are just the most evident and public instances of free speech being restricted for no valid reason at all. There are plenty of other instances of free speech, especially Conservative free speech, being restricted because it is deemed “offensive.” This has been on the rise since Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election. Those who state they are in support of Trump, or those who make comments in support of or a joke about the wall are told they are being offensive. Those who claim they support the immigration ban because it is only temporary and a way to straighten out our national security strategy are deemed “racists.” This is not only completely inaccurate, but also completely unfair.  

So, what reasons do we have to restrict free speech? By law, we may have a few. But in terms of what is right and what is wrong, we do not have reasons to restrict free speech. It is a slippery slope to restrict speech because it is considered “offensive.” Someone stating they are in support of Donald Trump today are criticized because the left sees Trump as a racist. But those who supported Hillary were never told their speech rights could be taken away because they supported a corrupt liar. The double standard is disturbing.

To conclude, let me state, the increasing fight against free speech is disturbing, troubling and plain wrong. I will be on the watch for these restrictions even more than usual now, and I will not be afraid to call it out. Free speech is not only a right, but it has become a full part of our culture, and is one of the pillars of the founding of our nation. Let’s support it all together, whether it’s coming from liberals, conservatives, socialists or libertarians. If we do not support all types of speech, we may lose the right altogether. 

Written by Dave Garland

Author of "A Common Man's View on Political Dishonesty." A book that calls out our dishonest leaders

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