Written by: Taylor Stone
Throughout the entire history of mankind, protests have undoubtedly played a profound role in societal change that has yielded both good and bad results. Unfortunately, it seems that in recent decades the constitutionally defined concept of “free speech” has arguably morphed into nothing more than a political “battering ram” used by conflicting ideological groups to effectively silence speech that they do not agree with.
So why is it that so many universities now have designated “free speech zones”? Is speech relevant only when heard while standing on a specific patch of grass? Has the concept of free speech become such a sensitive issue that institutions of higher learning feel the need to “shield” students from the potential exposure to information that previously may have not been available outside of the classroom? Does free thought and expression have to first undergo academic sanitization before being deemed safe for campus consumption?
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly prohibits government from establishing laws that allow for the abridgment of free speech.
So then why are some protests considered good or bad? More importantly, why are some protests “allowed” and others not? If speech is truly free and if individuals are to be encouraged to think for themselves, why would some be allowed to share their ideas and others not? Why would the establishment of “free speech zones” even be necessary?
I would argue that one of the greatest examples of how the concept of free speech should be viewed is through the prism of the U.S. Military being protested during the Vietnam era. There has always been a certain segment of society that fundamentally loathes the fact that the United States dominates the rest of the world both militarily and economically.
There are endless examples of American citizens passionately, and often disrespectfully, gathering to protest the actions of U.S. soldiers throughout almost every military operation following WWII. While many in the military would likely find this viewpoint misguided, they are still willing to literally sacrifice their lives to protect the rights of these same people to protest. The fact that these soldiers are detested and disrespected by protesters does not impede their sworn duty to uphold and defend the Constitution that gives protestors the right to freely voice their opposition to military operations.
Likewise, protesters for the “pro-choice movement” have no legal duty or responsibility to be respectful or considerate about the feelings of protesters for the “pro-life movement.” Additionally, a single atheist has the Constitutional right to protest the display of a 150 year-old religious symbol in their town that they deem offensive, even if 99.99 percent of the surrounding population does not. While the notion of “the separation of church and state” does not exist anywhere in the Constitution, that individual’s right to freely protest does.
Free speech that you disagree with or protesters that you find offensive with may anger you and make you uncomfortable, but that is precisely why America is so unique in this sense: No individual citizen has the right to “not be offended,” but every citizen the right to be offensive. So if one truly believes in the concept of “freedom of speech,” that individual should neither champion nor criticize the process of free expression or attempt to prevent it based on whether or not they find it agreeable.