Free Speech on College Campuses
Universities are considering adopting speech codes that would put a ban on offensive, demeaning, and provoking speech. The developments of these speech codes are not necessary. Sheltering students from speech that might offend them is patronizing to say the least. Do college officials really believe the students are too weak to live with the Bill of Rights? The fact of the matter is that speech codes on college campuses are threatening students’ freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas and therefore have no place in higher education.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (Cornell.edu). Michael Cooper, of the New York Times says, although the amendment is only a mere forty-five words, the Founding Fathers laid out what the fundamental rights that Americans are entitled to and understood that the great danger of democracy was the tyranny of the majority (8). Freedom of speech is essential, without it there is no freedom. Harvey A. Silverglate, a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, stated, there has been an ongoing argument about the difference between speech and conduct. To some, “The amendment would seem to protect speech only—and not the various forms of conduct that can communicate a message” (23). States and government have been trying to make laws that the Bill of Rights covers speech only and not conduct, but the Supreme Court rules that “the amendment protects not just speech but ‘communication’” (Silverglate 23). According to the article “Protecting the Free Exchange of Ideas in Higher Education”, all across America, the fundamental academic mission of educating students and serving the broader community on college campuses has always been, “a free exchange of ideas” (Campusspeech.org). The only way to challenge minds is to challenge the ideas through speech. It is through freedom of speech which creates new ideas that challenges students and faculty members to become critical thinkers and fulfill the functions of education so they can serve the broader community. The article also states that, “With both the so-called “intellectual diversity” bill and “academic bill of restrictions,” detractors of the free exchange of ideas on campus, namely the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and pundit/activist David Horowitz are trying to impose new restrictions on what can be taught and discussed in higher education, while bringing undue scrutiny over classroom content” (Campusspeech.org). Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, mentioned that, “For several years, universities have been struggling with the problem of trying to reconcile the rights of free speech with the desire to avoid racial tension” (123). These restrictions are otherwise known as speech codes. When college administrators start controlling context and content of what can be freely said on campus, it often initiates protests by students, faculty, and staff. The article “Hate Crimes,” explains that these protests are in regard of the right of free speech. Administrators claim that speech codes were developed not to restrict speech, but to protect the victims of offensive words made by others (Jost 2-3). To answer the questions of these protestors we must look into both sides of the argument as to whether speech codes infringe upon our free speech rights in the constitution or not. Famed attorney Alan Dershowitz goes on to explain, “Fair questions . . . need to be answered before anyone goes further down the dangerous road to selective censorship based on perceived...
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