Freedom lay at the foundation of our country in its first few days. We wished to express ourselves, to eloquently elaborate on our need to decide our own future. Years later, the letter of the law spelled out in the Bill of Rights sanctified this idea — the freedom of speech. But recently, some have undermined the entire principle by attempting to limit this freedom to those with whom they have ideological similarities.
The point of freedom of speech is not to allow those who have similar views as us to speak, but to allow those who have radically different views than us to speak without fear of the government. Abroad, at the University of Oxford, James has been able to view firsthand what happens in countries without such a righteous provision. For example, a debate over the merit of the legality of abortion was shut down after students at the college hosting it threatened to protest the debate. The debate had to be moved to a different college.
Now listen: words can hurt, it’s true. But what can hurt us more is shutting ourselves off from the ideas of those with whom we disagree.
Resultantly, we authors were shocked when a recent poll showed that a large plurality of Americans support a ban on “hate speech.” We feel compelled to point out that there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment protecting us from “hateful ideas,” whatever they may be. Our student body’s courageous stand in front of the Westboro Baptist Church showed the benefits of free speech firsthand. They were allowed to say their hurtful comments; we were able to respond with love in return.
But then again, this is not so surprising when we consider recent events on campus. Despite large-scale agreement over the idea of free speech — that people should be allowed to say what they want anywhere on campus (ideals reflected in every Georgetown University Student Association platform) — our actions have proven otherwise. Earlier this year, after some students engaged in intimidating behavior toward an outside speaker with whose views on feminism they disagreed, this very newspaper essentially endorsed the idea of blocking certain speakers from campus. To the credit of some readers, the Editorial Board was excoriated for such cowardice in the comments section. Our university administrators followed this up by attempting to threaten an outside organization to pull a video of a controversial speaker because it contained students who had supposedly not given consent to be filmed. This flimsy reasoning leads us to believe that the university and our student body have far more in common on the issue of free speech than most would like to believe.
In this furtive attempt to protect ourselves some from scary ideas, we have embarrassed this campus nationally and earned ourselves a reputation as a place unwilling to trust our fellow students, unwilling to listen to opposing views, and unwilling to face the harshness of the real world. As a result, we call upon the newly created Office of the Free Speech Advocate to stand up for the free speech rights of all, no matter how unpopular or controversial, rather than the rights of a chosen few.
Although we are perhaps guilty of a little contextomy, we will conclude with the words of the famous patriot Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Betraying our founding ideals for safety from dangerous ideas is not worth thirty pieces of silver.
Reno Varghese is a rising senior in the School of Foreign Service. James Gadea is a rising senior in the School of Foreign Service. Exit Stage Right appears every other Tuesday.