The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the American people five basic rights. One of the most important rights listed in that amendment, the right to freedom of speech, has been trampled on of late. If we do not change our behavior and attitude toward those who think and express their views differently than we do, we are going to sacrifice this right that we should all hold dear.
Words are powerful and what people say will bear consequences, whether they be good or bad. This past election cycle, along with the weeks following President Trump’s inauguration, have shown the American people that it does not matter what is said, someone will almost always take offense.
The university I attend (University of South Florida) has made an effort to protect the free speech of its students and those who wish to come and speak on campus. In front of a popular building on campus, there is a lawn where students and even non-students can protest, give speeches and say almost anything they want except incite violence. Of course, this brings likable and unlikeable people to the public university. Almost every week Westboro Baptist-like preachers come to campus with their signs condemning everyone to hell. While they draw a crowd and are disliked by any rational person, Christian or non-Christian alike, it is agreed upon that the radical preachers are allowed to be there and express their vitriolic views.
Furthermore, USF has had controversial figures come to campus and students have been allowed to stage protests over political issues. A few months ago, controversial provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos spoke on campus without issue. Black Lives Matter co-founder and activist Alicia Garza has spoken on campus as well. Both of these high-profile speakers were allowed to speak without incident. Just last week, students at USF protested against President Trump’s travel ban.
Unfortunately, college students and other people across the country do not have the same respect for the First Amendment as USF’s faculty and students do. While Milo Yiannopoulos was allowed to speak on USF’s campus, he has been banned from other campuses and protests and riots have forced him to cancel his events and fear for his safety. Most recently, students at UC Berkeley started riots and fires over Milo coming to their campus. Conservative speaker Ben Shapiro has also been banned from speaking at certain universities. Most notably, DePaul University canceled a speaking engagement Shapiro had because of student objections. Security on the campus stated they would have to arrest Shapiro if he tried to enter the venue where he was set to speak.
While there are universities who allow speakers who are disliked by many on the political Left to come speak on their campuses, that does not stop some Liberals from trying to sabotage the speeches by staging protests or purposefully registering for tickets to prevent people who actually want to go and listen to the speakers from doing so.
At the moment, the political Left is doing everything within their power to silence Conservative speech and speech that would be considered far-right. In almost every protest staged by Progressives and the political Left you will see signs that say “Love Trumps Hate,” “Down with Fascism,” or “Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech.” In an ironic twist, it is these people protesting who turn their “love” into hate for the other side of the aisle, who take on fascist tactics by silencing those they oppose, and who shut down speech and label speech they disagree with as being hateful.
If any type of speech can be labeled and stereotyped as hate speech, we will run into serious problems as a nation. Speech that you do not like should not be labeled as hate speech. If what Milo Yiannopoulos says constitutes hate speech, every comedian or provocateur in this country would be out of a job. If you do not like what someone is saying, either ignore it or defend your own position with your own speech. I will not defend Milo’s words or his positions, but I will defend his right to say what he wants. We all should.
MLK Day was a few weeks ago and February is Black History Month. I think it is important to remember and thank Martin Luther King, Jr. for giving us a piece of advice that will never be forgotten. We should judge people by the content of their character and hold ourselves to a higher standard. When it comes to those we disagree with, whether you are on the political Left or political Right, it is important to remember to be the bigger and better person. It is such a simple concept that if followed it could solve some of the country's most divisive issues.
To those on the Left, if you do not like what President Trump is doing, if you do not like Conservatism, Conservative values, Conservative speech, the far-right or alt-right, by all means, do not be silent. Stand up for what you believe in. Protest and use your own words to support your position. However, do not shoot your message in the foot by turning into animals who loot, set fires, and assault those you disagree with. Think about what that reveals about the content of your character. If you are on the Left and you do not condone this type of behavior, make your voice heard. Do not shut down the speech of others but allow their voices to be heard and clearly articulate your position and state why people should listen to you instead.
To those on the Right, stand up for what is right and stand up for your values as well. However, do not be hypocrites either. Do not shoot your message in the foot by embracing rhetoric that you are supposed to condemn. Continue to allow the Left to speak its mind but simply return the favor. Do not condone violence amongst yourselves and while inflammatory speech is free speech, do not give it a free pass. As Conservatives, we do not have to shy away from telling the truth, but we can tell the truth in a manner that does not cause the other side to put up walls. There are times where speech is free but the comments are still unwarranted.
To both sides, if we simply listen to one another rather than talk past each other, maybe we can heal the divide in this country and come to an agreement that while all speech is free speech, all speech does not have to be embraced and we can unify and articulate the values and principles that have always made this nation great.