Free speech is one of the fundamental rights existing in democracies, including the United States. The Constitution guarantees one’s unabridged right to express oneself freely, and people often appeal to the First Amendment when accused of crossing the boundaries. However, the concept tends to be misunderstood and abused, leading to controversial situations centuries after it was originally introduced. This paper will discuss the limits of freedom of expression, its application on campuses, and the ways to combat hateful instances.
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In the broad sense, free speech could mean saying whatever one wants without consequences, but hardly anything is absolute. First of all, the right implies that the government cannot restrict one’s expression (Moscowitz, 2019). It is necessary to make such a distinction, as many people may found themselves expressing their opinion on a private platform, be that in real life or online. They discover the First Amendment’s inapplicability there, which is, perhaps, the result of saying something that entailed sanctions. Interestingly, the same restrictions exist in the interpretation of the right, as slandering a person, for instance, leads to repercussions, even if done for the sake of free speech (Baer, 2019). Thus, it seems that as long as the speech does not obstruct other people’s rights, it should be allowed in as many quantities as possible.
College campuses present an interesting case for executing one’s freedom of expression. Although only public colleges are technically under the First Amendment’s direct jurisdiction, the private ones also seem to have adopted free speech (Whittington, 2018). It is essential for higher education institutions to establish such space that would be beneficial for developing free thinkers (Chereminsky & Gillman, 2018). Colleges strive to make students bolder in their inquiring and expression, as those are intertwined with freedom of thought (Chereminsky & Gillman, 2018). However, they should also ensure that various voices are heard instead of one group or point of view; otherwise, free speech might be reduced to a doctrine (Whittington, 2018). Colleges also must protect students from being exposed to hateful expressions, potentially through pre-established content warnings or creating safe spaces (Whittington, 2018). The concern is that those measures can be abused, diminishing a college’s role as a discussion platform (Whittington, 2018). Thus, free speech is essential for colleges, whose role is to cultivate free-thinking citizens, although the institutions are also responsible for its plurality and student safety.
Hate speech remains a controversial issue within the realms of freedom of expression, aggravated by the fact that it is unclear how to properly address it. Although the idea that the Constitution does not protect hateful expressions is widespread, the Supreme Court maintains that expressing all viewpoints is legal (Whittington, 2018). Given the action’s legality, it is worth discussing the ways to combat it. Strossen (2018) believes that censorship is not productive and harmful, and hate speech should be countered within the realms of freedom of expression by those who are affected by it. Whether it will lead to physical violence is disputable, as threats do not automatically translate to actions, but speech platforms should still ensure that everyone is safe (Baer, 2019). Overall, forbidding hate speech might be counterproductive, as it does not erase hateful thoughts, and it might be better to fight it with words, but within the boundaries of non-violence.
In conclusion, free speech is a fundamental democratic right inherent to a society based on freedom. It has certain limitations, which are subject to controversy, and they manifest themselves at college campuses in particular. Those are supposed to be the space for cultivating free-thinking citizens, and any restrictions might be detrimental. It begs the question of combating extreme expressions of the right, which is possible to achieve without banning anything by creating safe, violence-free zones that enable constructive discussions of controversial issues.
Baer, U. (2019). What snowflakes get right: Free speech, truth, and equality on campus. Oxford University Press.
Chemerinsky, E., & Gillman, H. (2018). Free speech on campus. Yale University Press.
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Moscowitz, P. E. (2019). The case against free speech: The First Amendment, fascism, and the future of dissent. Bold Type Books.
Strossen, N. (2018). Hate: Why we should resist it with free speech, not censorship. Oxford University Press.
Whittington, K. E. (2018). Speak freely: Why universities must defend free speech. Princeton University Press.