Topic: Banning of controversial material in public places
Essential Question: Can public spaces ban controversial speakers, books, and plays without violating the Freedom of Speech clause of the First Amendment?
Today, freedom of speech is being obstructed in many public places, universities being the most common. Throughout the history of The United States, free speech has always been a topic of discussion. Now, more than ever, there seems to be an increasing number of cases in which “free” speech is being restricted. Freedom of speech is one of many basic human rights granted to Americans in the First Amendment. It states that the government must respect a citizen’s right to express themselves, whether through writing, speaking, or gestures. Universities are places where people go to openly express their ideas and absorb those of fellow students. If free speech is being restricted at universities across the nation, where else can the government limit the speech of US citizens?
One of the first examples of restricted speech occurred in 1916. The Old South Meeting House in Boston attempted to ban controversial speakers and plays from performing in their facility. Luckily for the city of Boston, this forum was not passed and the meeting house remained a public place where everyone could freely express their opinions. Although offensive to some people, the sharing of ideas, even those that are contentious, is the backbone of our democratic society. Another more recent example of restricted free speech presented itself when, in December 2016, the senate passed the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act . Even though this act is well-intentioned to protect Jewish students on campuses, the government does not have the right to control the speech of US citizens, unless their words or actions become threatening. As stated by Chemerinsky and Gillman in their article, “Schools can prevent and punish threats, harassment, and destruction of property, but never the expression of views”.
Similarly, professors are having to change their syllabi in order to be certain no one will be offended by their curriculum. Not only this, but class discussions and school newspapers are being censored to not offend certain students. Places like discussions and newspapers are supposed to be a place where students’ developing minds can go to enhance their education. How can we expect our universities to remain some of the most prestigious in the world, when the professors are restricting their lectures and class discussions are being censored? The issue of limiting free speech is growing, and without people actively fighting to protect their first amendment rights, it seems that US citizens may no longer have the right to free speech.
Tags: Freedom of Speech, University, Education, First Amendment, Controversial
Chemerinsky, Erwin, and Howard Gillman. "A Bill to Police Campus Speech."<i> Wall Street Journal</i>, 16 Dec 2016, pp. A.15.<i> SIRS Issues Researcher</i>, <a href=”http://sks.sirs.com” target=”_blank”>http://sks.sirs.com</a>.