Do not claim to support free speech if you can’t extend the courtesy

February 28, 2017

Kyle Guthrie

kguthri2@uccs.edu

     Free speech is becoming an endangered idea.

     I’m not saying that to be dramatic. We look at the term endangered to mean “at risk of extinction,” and that’s what free speech is.

     Even universities, places that are often hailed as beacons of exposure to new ideas, seem to be turning into another place where entire groups express outrage that people with different beliefs would dare speak their mind.

     University of California, Berkeley was hailed as the birth place of the free speech movement in 1964. In recent weeks, violent and destructive riots erupted over the fact that a controversial blogger was going to speak at their campus.

     They claimed to do so in the name of tolerance, but part of tolerance means hearing and understanding viewpoints that conflict with your own, even if you find these viewpoints vile and hateful.

     I despise the Westboro Baptists, and I cringe to think of them protesting the funerals of fallen veterans. But I would still fight for their right to do so because I believe in free speech being larger than myself.

     I believe in the Constitution and the right of free speech that comes with it. Tolerating the hateful speech of this group is an unfortunate, but necessary, cost of our freedom.

     I realize that, as outlined in the Constitution, free speech is designed to prevent the government from infringing on the right of the people.

     But the Constitution was also written as a series of guidelines that the Founding Fathers hoped would be adopted by the American people.

     Universities, including UCCS, have adopted the guidelines and ideals of the U.S. Constitution into their own, with free speech being one of the first and foremost protections.

     It seems that as of late, people seem to be confusing the right of free speech with the right to not be offended.

     When you graduate, the real world is going to throw ideas your way that you are not going to like. If you don’t learn to tolerate, accept or even adapt to these conflicting ideas here in college, what makes you think you will be able to do so in a job?

     I love hearing opposing viewpoints on topics. Not only does it give me an opportunity to learn new information that may sway my opinion on a topic, but if I still disagree with the viewpoint, it lets me understand why someone may think that way.

     This is what I do not understand about people who protest ideas that are different than theirs.

     Why would you want to pass on an opportunity to know more about your enemy?

     You may still disagree with me. But guess what? You have every right to do so.

     But keep one thing in mind when you sympathize with those who use violence and protest to shut down free speech: ideals, social issues and perspectives change all the time across both America and the world.

     Five, 10 or even 20 years from now, the ideals and principles that you hold to may be considered offensive and intolerant by most of America.

     When that day comes, I imagine you would prefer that they at least hear your viewpoints in an open and peaceful discussion, rather than violent outburst and foul language.