Freedom of Speech Not for Popular Opinions, But the Most Controversial
In recent days, the University of Missouri has made headlines for widespread racial tensions and the fallout surrounding them.
However, an ancillary point has arisen, as some have protested the use of certain kinds of speech.
Perhaps no better example was brought to light than when the Vice President of the Missouri Students Association stated that she is “tired of hearing that First Amendment rights protect students when they are creating a hostile and unsafe learning environment for myself and for other students here.”
The University of Missouri welcomed this thinking, sending a campus e-mail asking “individuals who witness incidents of hateful and/or hurtful speech or actions” to contact the campus police.
Said Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Abrams v. United States, “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.”
In the same way that the public may revile terrible movies and music, or goods which are poorly produced and over-priced, it is not unexpected that certain speech — particularly that which is bigoted, ignorant or downright mean — can be off-putting to many.
However, the solution in both scenarios is not to shut down the believed wrongdoers, but rather to present the public with positive alternatives.
While some statements are inexplicable, others may be eye-opening. As the Missouri Students Association herself stated, people must “learn from one another.” While it is easy to caricature opposition when one has never known someone of such a persuasion, it is much more difficult to comprehend life experiences which have brought others to their present mindsets.
Another issue is that instead of practicing tolerance, millennials have gone to a method of shunning and outrage when faced with opposition to that which they believe to be “fact.”
Perhaps partly a consequence of past poor treatment of some classes of persons, it seems that the pendulum has now swung dangerously far in the opposite direction.
The newest guarantees of equal rights has become for some not a shield of protection, but rather a sword to strike back at those who show even the slightest hint of non-conformance. This does more harm than good, as those being attacked may quickly become disillusioned with otherwise just causes.
Freedom of speech is among the most important rights and responsibilities in a free society. While it is easy to defend such a right for those with agreeable opinions, the true test of principles comes only when tasked with defending the right to speak those opinions which are seemingly abhorrent.