Resisting the government’s assault on the right to free speech

Noah Loewy, Assistant Opinions Editor

From Thomas Paine’s controversial Common Sense, to the pacifist movement of the late 1960s, to the recent March for Our Lives, demonstrating free speech has been one of America’s most coveted freedoms–a freedom that bears a striking resemblance to the Lockean principles that our country was founded upon.  

Over the previous decade, the bipartisan war on free speech has intensified, with right-wing leaders attacking universities for silencing conservatives, while liberals express their dissatisfaction with the censorship of the Right.

American universities, which were considered to be safe havens for students who wanted to express controversial political opinions during the Vietnam War, have led the assault against free speech. 

Ben Shapiro and Steven Crowder, two respected political commentators within the conservative community, have been barred from speaking at more than a dozen universities, due to their atypical beliefs.  While some of their views may not conform to our progressive society, they still maintain the right to share their ideas in the same way people have the right to speak out against them. 

“Censoring individuals that we disagree with will not make their ideas go away.  Nor will it make them more sympathetic to our arguments, or decrease hate in our society.  On the contrary, denying others a voice will only make their resentment grow stronger,” said senior Ben Goldstein.

Nevertheless, Republicans are equally guilty of suppressing speech.  In Texas v. Johnson in 1989 and United States v. Eichman in 1990, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of sovereign American citizens to burn the national flag.

Despite this, 53 percent of Republicans, including President Trump, believe that flag-burners should have their citizenship revoked.  Ironically, many prominent conservatives have voiced their discontent for this idea.

“Although I do not approve of flag-burning, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged. [Flag burning] was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress,” said former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. 

Revoking this inalienable right to express your beliefs, which is protected in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, is a fascist practice with minimal benefits and tremendous consequences.

First, prohibiting others to peacefully express a dissenting point of view hinders the advancement of knowledge and the development of new ideas.  To reach a valid and rational conclusion on a contentious issue, one must consider all perspectives, especially those that contradict their own beliefs. 

America is a melting pot, bringing a diverse range of experiences, beliefs, and values.  Therefore, what is considered “offensive” is subjective because everyone has a slightly different moral compass.

The suppression of offensive speech is a slippery slope due to the absence of an authoritative figure who can decide what speech is acceptable.  However, this figurehead would eventually lead to the banning of all ideas that deviate from the status quo or contradict a certain set of beliefs. 

Moreover, not all radical ideas are bad in practice.  For example, people who aimed to abolish the South’s racist and divisive Jim Crow Laws were in the minority.  Yet, due to their First Amendment liberties, civil rights advocates were able to speak freely and convey their ideas to others, and this ultimately played an integral role in facilitating civil rights reforms. 

“It’s important to share ideas in this country so people have choices in what they want to believe. If everyone obeyed to one philosophy out of force, not only would life be boring but this would also leave room for people to be oppressed.  Without people speaking out, no discussion about issues would be had and no reforms can be made,” said sophomore Dylan Schor.  

In America’s constitutional republic, the system of checks and balances does not only apply to the three branches of government; the populous is also included. 

Since the American people are the electorate and have the right to overthrow a tyrannical government, it is essential they have open access to all perspectives.  Only this way can all citizens make the best judgement for themselves individually, and for their country as a whole.  

“By suppressing free speech, our Constitutional freedom is being taken away.  Not only is our freedom of speech being suffocated, but it is also prohibiting the spread of new ideas and knowledge,” said freshman Amber Kakkar.

Once Americans lose the right to develop alternative ideas, change becomes increasingly difficult.  A populous without the ability to make logical reforms creates a perilous breeding ground for tyranny–a society without the ability to voice their opinions contradicts the fundamental concept, of protecting all Constitutional liberties, that America was originally founded on.