Free speech in 2014 exists because of two decades of fighting

I mentioned in my last blog post that I am writing a research paper on speech codes on college campuses. While meeting with my professor to discuss my thesis for this paper, I realized, and verbalized, how easy this paper is to write in 2014 as compared to how difficult it would have been to argue my thesis 10 or 20 years ago.

People, groups, students, and professors have gone before me, suffered, paid the price, lost careers, lost degrees, lost almost everything to see that I have the right today to express myself freely on my college campus. Additionally, court case after court case documents what the U.S. Supreme Courts thinks of most speech codes: they are unconstitutional and violate the First Amendment rights of students and faculty.

I am so lucky. I have scholarly source after scholarly source, peer-reviewed and backed up by the SCOTUS to support my thesis. And yet there are still proponents of strong speech codes. This is America, so that is okay.

We all have the history of University of California-Berkeley in the 1960s to show us what happens when the government and college administration attempt to silence the voices of students: it can get heated, students are mobilized, and what “the establishment” attempts to suppress comes out like a volcano erupting. I was shocked to read that not only did the California state government get involved, but the FBI and CIA had infiltrated campus life with the goal of stopping the progress of liberal ideologies. Oh, how misguided our government can be.

You want to know what is the most amazing of all? Even today, in a global political climate with a global economy, the United States of America stands alone in protecting the rights of its citizens to freedom of speech and expression. We are alone. As ugly as it is to read anything homophobic or racist, it is legal to speak of such things without fear of prosecution. I didn’t say there wouldn’t be consequences. No one can eliminate the possibility that a CEO might be pressured to resign after supporting Proposition 8 in California, or that an anti-gay rights celebrity might be fired (though later brought back because of popular demand). This is how we deal with things in America. You have the right to be ugly, and I have the right to call you a racist or homophobic. That is my right. We can fly the Confederate Flag, the American Flag, the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and my neighbors can hate me for it and talk about me and refuse to associate with me. I have rights and they have rights.

That’s the thing about free speech: it allows the free exchange of ideas, the critical evaluation of those ideas, and the conclusion that, in some cases, we reject what some ideas represent and convey. We are evolving as a nation. We are becoming more tolerant while intolerance is common. We are more polarized while we often fear speaking up. Moderate voices are accused most of all because they refuse to buy in 100% to any ideology. When one ideology completely rules our land, there is no more hope.

I love my country, and am prouder than ever to be a part in some small way. I look forward to the further evolution of American culture. I had almost lost hope, but this research paper has changed that. As long as we can freely discuss ideas there is hope.


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