Learn the difference between free speech and hate speech

Photo credit: Rewon Shimray

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution says, “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.”

As citizens of the United States of America, we have the right to say (almost) whatever we want. Our First Amendment rights allow us to say what we want when we want, no matter how offensive it may be. But just because we can say something, does not mean that we should.

Free speech, especially on college campuses, has been a hot topic lately. In April, Auburn University in Alabama attempted to cancel an event where self-proclaimed White Nationalist Richard Spencer was supposed to be speaking on campus, but a federal judge ruled that not allowing him to speak was a violation of his First Amendment rights, contributing to the debate.

The American Civil Liberties Union puts it this way, “Bigoted speech is symptomatic of a huge problem in our country; it is not the problem itself. Everybody, when they come to college, brings with them the values, biases and assumptions they learned while growing up in society, so it’s unrealistic to think that punishing speech is going to rid campuses of the attitudes that gave rise to the speech in the first place. Banning bigoted speech won’t end bigotry, even if it might chill some of the crudest expressions. The mindset that produced the speech lives on and may even reassert itself in more virulent forms.”

People come to college for a lot of reasons, one being to learn. So keep an open mind, don’t close yourself off from learning something just because it wasn’t what you planned on learning. Look to learn in more ways than solely from professors: learn from your classmates, learn in and outside of the classroom, learn anything and everything that you can.

We encourage you to foster education, tolerance and understanding in your speech and actions both on and off campus. There may never be another point in your life when you are surrounded by as many people from different backgrounds and who have different beliefs as you; capitalize on this opportunity to learn from your peers.

Our free speech is not limited on this campus, nor should it be, but be mindful of your bias and the things you may not know. We are all students here, we don’t know everything so we shouldn’t be acting, or talking, like we do. We have the right to free speech, but speech that hurts or belittles others doesn’t do anyone any good. We’re not saying be “politically correct” all the time, but choose your words wisely and be caring all the time.