OPINION: We need to defend the right to free speech


Michael Lynch

Assistant Opinions Editor

As a columnist for The Runner, I often disagree with the opinions and perspectives my fellow writers hold; however, I am very thankful they have the right to express their opinions. On college campuses throughout our nation, we have seen a very disturbing trend toward silencing people we disagree with. If we are to grow as a campus community, we need to value free expression and freedom of thought. By exposing ourselves to other perspectives, and allowing other voices to be heard, we can all grow in pursuit of our education.

The First Amendment protects freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and the right to petition our representatives. Unfortunately, that is being eroded upon and forgotten about.

A Gallup-Knight Foundation survey in March of this year found that 70% of students believe it is more important for universities to have an open learning environment with diverse viewpoints, even if offensive speech is allowed, as opposed to having censorship on campuses. That number is down from 78% in 2016. Similarly, 53% of college students believe protecting diversity and inclusion is more important than free speech rights.

We need to defend the right to free speech. While we might disagree with an idea or opinion, the right to say it must be protected.

Many people for instance complain about the petitioners on our campus. For me, it is concerning how the conversation is rarely about the petitions they want signed; rather, people ask if they should even be allowed to be on campus. Under the First Amendment, you have the right to petition your representatives. Even though it can be an inconvenience, they absolutely have the right to petition on a public campus.

In our college career, we have to be open to new ideas and perspectives. Even if we fundamentally disagree with another person’s world view, it is helpful to challenge it by engaging in a thoughtful debate. It is beneficial to have the ability to explain why it is wrong.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that advocates for First Amendment rights on college campuses, “Half of students (54%) agree that they have stopped themselves from sharing an idea or opinion in class at some point since beginning college.” That is disappointing, considering that colleges are supposed to be havens for the free exchange of ideas.

The whole point of the First Amendment is to protect ideas we do not like. It is easy to express ideas our professors and the broader campus community agree with. What is difficult is articulating a position that is not widely accepted.

According to a 2017 poll by the Brookings Institution, only 39% of college students believe the First Amendment protects “hate speech.” That is the reason why we have the First Amendment: to protect the free expression of ideas we disagree with. If someone is advocating for something immoral, inhumane, or offensive, our response should be to engage in speech against it. Our response should never be to silence someone, disinvite a speaker, or limit freedom of expression through “safe spaces”.

The right to express your beliefs is not taken away, it is given away. That is why we must stand up to any attempt to censor beliefs on campus.


Artwork by Aqsa Khan, The Runner.