By Michael Agapos | Contributor
Recently, I pulled down a flier containing inflammatory and potentially harmful rhetoric advertising a certain upcoming event in which Matt Walsh, a self-described “theocratic fascist,” was invited to campus by Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). Well, to be fair, I actually pulled down several. For doing so, YAF and those who support it leveled several criticisms at me, mostly on Twitter. I’m writing this to explain myself.
One prominent criticism is that I in some way violated the speaker’s freedom of speech by pulling down fliers. I fail to see how this is the case. Firstly, the 1st Amendment, which establishes freedom of speech, is a limitation set upon the government, which means it cannot punish people for, among other things, freely expressing their opinions. It says nothing about the citizenry itself impeding or protesting other citizens’ views or expressions thereof. Secondly, Walsh’s expression of ideas is in no way dependent upon advertising. He is welcome to come speak if he wants, but I decided to use my freedom of speech to ensure that he will speak to as empty a room as possible. In addition, I was not limiting all options to get the information about the event. YAF still has their social media and members to spread information about the event. If I were to, for instance, report them for threatening to dox me (an actual threat they made) and get their Twitter account taken down, that may be limiting freedom of speech. But fliers are not Twitter accounts.
Here’s one reason I pulled down the fliers: I respect the integrity of America’s governmental systems. Allowing self-described fascists to speak on our campus is not allowing them to exercise their freedom of speech; rather, it is allowing one whose relationship to freedom is already dubious a platform to potentially undermine the authority of the U.S. government and Constitution. And even if Walsh only identifies as a “theocratic fascist” in his twitter bio to “own the libs,” it’s telling that someone who has only read a few of his articles was unable to tell the difference. Fascists are not known for their love of freedom; their ideology demands the destruction of all the liberties we hold dear, including freedom of speech. I would question any group that claims to be in favor of freedom and invites such a speaker to come and express his views, even if those views are not related to governance per se. Most of Walsh’s talking points are related to promoting problematic models of family and gender roles and straw-manning of opposing views (as demonstrated by the fliers themselves). While this may not seem initially harmful, family is the building block of society, and allowing a fascist definition of family also allows fascist influences on society in the long run. It is my duty as a citizen to preserve this republic, and in this case, that meant pulling down those fliers.
Another reason I pulled the fliers: I am dedicated to making Baylor look as good as possible, as a student who loves and is loyal to her, despite her shortcomings. Imagine being an LGBTQ student and seeing your struggle to live and love freely compared to the horrors of communist authoritarianism, or the implication that you are in some way out of touch with reality by identifying as you do, both of which the three varieties of fliers did in varying capacities. LGBTQ students are already one of several voiceless minorities on campus, and yet other groups which have been granted a voice can host events and people that attack them with no institutionalized, official way to defend themselves. It is one thing to be non-affirming, another to be bigoted and hateful, and this certainly makes Baylor look hateful, as the fliers had the Baylor Student Activities seal of approval. How does having approved fliers that merge communist propaganda with LGBTQ symbolism around campus make Baylor look good? How does inviting a fascist to campus align with the current goal of the “Illuminate” program to be a light shining in the world? How do either of these things treat our LGBTQ neighbors with love and acknowledge the inherent dignity that they too have, as individuals made in the image of God? It doesn’t. Period.
However, I have not heard only criticisms. The amount of people I have seen and heard about speaking out against this event is both promising and encouraging. I’m not sure what the university will choose to do about this event. I hope they cancel it; we are a private university with a reputation to improve, after all, so I believe we certainly have the right to do so. I hope that YAF does some serious soul-searching as to why they decided it was a good idea to bring a self-described fascist to campus when they say they support freedom; if they wanted to bring a non-fascist to campus to speak and abstain from inflammatory and harmful rhetoric in their posters, then I would certainly be happy to leave the fliers posted next time. And I hope that, in the long run, Baylor will grant a voice to groups like the LGBTQ community so that we can have conversations about this and similar issues not as empowered to powerless, but as equals. Until then, let’s work to better our university.
Michael is a junior international studies major from Memphis, Tenn.