I am sorry to break it to you: your opinions, especially your political leanings, are no better than anyone else’s. Political polarization is seen as this amorphous evil causing all the problems in our country, but that excuse is the political pundit’s easy way out.
In Israel on Oct. 7, the world saw the worst terrorist attack we have seen in decades and the fallout that followed has sparked international protests. The protests, specifically in the United States, have largely been held on or around university campuses, sparking debate over the political condition of young adults.
There has been extremism on both sides, but when students feel unsafe on behalf of protestors expressing their first amendment expression, then there is cause for concern.
No one should feel unsafe when people express dissent. Respectful dissent is one thing, dissenting with violent or threatening rhetoric and acting on it is another. I have trouble labeling any kind of speech as dangerous, because it becomes a blanket label term which can be applied to any kind of speech that someone disagrees with.
The First Amendment prohibits our national legislature from abridging the freedom of speech or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble. If any constitutional amendment is ripe in the mind of college students, it is the First.
However, does the First Amendment protect all kinds of speech? Under Brandenburg V. Ohio, among a multitude of prior Supreme Court speech precedents, the answer is no. The Brandenburg Test is one of the few ways in which our legislator can restrict speech. Speech can be restricted under the Brandenburg Test if it (1) is directed to cause or incite an imminent action and (2) likely to cause that imminent lawless action.
The Supreme Court and their precedents are, of course, not the bottom line of U.S. Constitutional interpretation. However, I argue that their test, while vague, is an appropriate guiding line on how we label speech. Labeling speech as dangerous is not as simple as pronouncing it as such.
Speech is dangerous if it specifically incites imminent lawless action. Labeling speech as dangerous because you don’t happen to agree is simply not good enough.
Calling other opinions dangerous is not the only problem with respecting one another’s ideologies, but it is a large barrier to having serious discussion over complex issues. It is much too simple to listen to a fellow student, friend or family member and label their speech as dangerous, then suddenly stop listening when they are simply bringing up a dissenting viewpoint.
The protests across university campuses in response to the Israel/Palestine war is a perfect example for becoming so entrenched in your views that ideological sides ignore each other and even resort to violence.
According to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in a study on threats to American Democracy, 23% of Americans in 2023 believe that we must resort to violence to save the country from “where it is headed,” which was unspecified.
We must reiterate our commitment to peaceful assembly and respect counterarguments when they arise. Violence is never the answer to disagreement. It is our duty not only to respectfully challenge not only the viewpoints of others, but to challenge our own. When we cease dissent, we cease critical thinking and fall prey to the evils of groupthink and majority rule.
As a political science major, I am relentlessly reminded of how our government was formed. The founders intended a nation not as one that bows to the majority, but one that gives each and every viewpoint a fair shot at affecting policy. That is why we have three — count em’— three branches of government backed by a federalist system. Changes move slowly under this system, but that is good.
Under this system of government, I am never fearful of a radical change because I know there will always be a challenge following suit.
As the holiday season approaches, some are burdened by having to “tolerate” the opinions of a fellow friend or family member of which they disagree. Do not self-censor, nor label their speech as dangerous and move on, but challenge them on the merits of their argument to have a rich and meaningful discission. Don’t burden discussion with anger, hate and bias.
Photo collage of UCCS, Downtown Colorado Springs, and the Israel-Palestine protests.