America is known as the land of the free and the home of the brave. As American citizens, we have several important documents to remind us of our freedoms. Freedom from Great Britain, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and of course, freedom of speech. Generally, this last one isn’t questioned. Other than certain trigger words that can cause panic (i.e. fire, bomb, etc.) we are basically allowed to say whatever we want, right?
Wrong. Actually, if you further your education at one of the 55 percent of colleges in the United States with “red light” speech codes, your constitutional rights are controlled so as not to offend anyone who does not share your views. Any views, whether political, religious, sexuality-oriented, or otherwise that deviate from the norm are restricted. This may simply mean being reprimanded if you speak against the majority, or your freedom of speech could be restricted to a box such as this one:
What’s even worse is the fact that this is a larger area than a majority of the “free speech zones.” Frequently, the box can only fit about two people in it, and sometimes you have to schedule it a week or more in advance if you want a chance to express your first amendment rights.
When I first started researching this problem, I was under the impression the emergence of “free speech zones” was a new affair. However, after digging a little deeper, I discovered schools such as West Virginia University had these zones as long ago as 2001. Luckily, the campus has discontinued this policy, but still, that’s fifteen years of our nation’s colleges violating students’ first amendment rights! Does anyone else see the problem here?
Actually, several people do. A student at the University of South Carolina recently sued the university for restricting his freedom of speech. He followed the university’s policy on free speech by displaying a copy of the constitution within the free speech zone and speaking openly about how the university was restricting these rights. However, some students complained this display was “offensive,” and “triggering,”. Are you kidding me? It’s now offensive to display an important document in our nation’s history and explain what it means?
Even President Obama, our nation’s leader, has spoken out against colleges with such policies. Last September he stated that having rules that limit expression of different points of view hinder students’ education. He believes differences in opinion should be expressed freely and politely, and all people should listen to each other’s points of view so they can learn from them. President Obama complained colleges and parents are too inclined to coddle students by trying to protect them from anything that could be deemed offensive. He also stated that he doesn’t believe in boycotting certain books, songs, movies, video games, or other propaganda just because it may be “triggering” to women or minorities.
We, as a nation, are too afraid of offending people. While I agree we should not be purposefully rude to people, I also realize we, as college students, are often so afraid of offending people that we aren’t always willing to share are opinions. We are also afraid of being judged if our opinion differs from the majority. Why does it matter? If we took the time to worry about whether or not we were offending anyone around us or if our opinion was valuable, even though it wasn’t the most popular viewpoint, no one would speak. Ever.
Under the Constitution, we are granted freedom of speech, so we should be encouraged to embrace it, not punished for doing so or confined to express our opinions in a box outlined in spray paint. I encourage you to have a discussion involving a topic you have a strong opinion about with someone who doesn’t share the same point of view because that is your constitutional right. Thanks, Wittenberg; I’m thankful to attend a university where I can express myself freely and argue with points other students or even professors make if I disagree with them or just want to play devil’s advocate because we can all learn from a good debate.