Massachusetts Daily Collegian

In defense of truly free speech

By Brian Bevilacqua

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A Christian group recently came to the University of Massachusetts, sparking a debate around campus that deeply concerned me. I heard several students say that the preachers should not be allowed to voice their opinions, and that students should not be subjugated to opinions they strongly disagree with in their public space. As a journalist and believer in the power of words, I find this stance shocking. It flies in the face of everything America was founded on. If we are to remain free, then there can be no limits on speech.

Cade Belisle/ Collegian

In the early 1700s, the average colonist in what would become the United States didn’t dare to speak out against the British government, let alone declare independence from it Because most colonists were compliant with their government, their rights were slowly infringed upon with greater frequency. When this infringement happened, colonists took to the streets to express their outrage.

Famous revolutionaries like Thomas Paine risked backlash and spoke out. His “Common Sense” ideas encouraged civil disobedience and stunned many of Paine’s fellow colonists, but his pamphlet eventually gained popularity and changed the world. It was the expression of shocking ideas that helped spark the revolution and create the nation we see today.

When there is oppression or wrongdoing in society the only solution is to speak up, and speak loud. If we are going to abandon this straightforward and simple concept, then we can no longer consider ourselves free. If it were not for the many writers, printers and speakers breaking the law over the years to spread their controversial ideas, then we would not have that freedom to speak out today. It would be hypocritical and harmful to limit speech to certain settings or to limit speech considered offensive or harmful to the public.

Today, an unchecked government attacks our rights as Americans. With today’s limitless technology and expansive government, it has become increasingly difficult to keep the government in check, let alone trust it. With the government continuing to support measures like the Patriot Act, which critics say violate our constitutional rights, why anyone would embrace further government restrictions on freedoms is beyond my comprehension.

In recent months the public has begun to take a different view of the government’s role in our lives. Both citizens and politicians are critical of the federal government’s use of power. From the NSA leaks on email surveillance to the revelation that the government has access to millions of Verizon phone records, people now see that government interference sidesteps and supersedes political party disputes. The ugly reality is that, in our flawed society, power tries to restrict the rights of its opponents, even if that attempt entails limiting the right to protest.

Neither the government nor any institution should enact any laws that limit the ability for citizens to protest or otherwise express themselves. This is not an issue that requires a historical or legal background to understand the dangers involved. Even the most basic of limitations on expression limit our growth as a society. This means UMass students have to accept protests and speech they may strongly disagree with, just as any other public university or institution must also. University policy has fallen in line with this stance. In 2001, it adopted very open rules that allow for campus protest and expression, something other schools have not done. The UMass population, both conservative and liberal, should be happy this is the case and accept what speech comes along with the policy.

Individuals collected in a thoughtful group can make intelligent choices. Although we may fear the power of one man, in reality it is groups of motivated and expressive people who change the world. Americans should not fear the ideas they disagree with; they can always ignore these ideas or counter-protest them. To pass a law that prevents hateful, homophobic or racist ideas is a good idea, but could lead into a dark territory where people are afraid to discuss and embrace new ideas. As you go deeper into this world of limited speech you will someday find that the government you disagree with is considering your protests to incite violence or be treasonous. And if you are the one whose rights are being challenged and people are afraid to speak up, you may feel differently on the issue.

 

Brian Belivacqua is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “In defense of truly free speech”

  1. Ulysses on October 7th, 2013 1:56 pm

    There are far too many people of all beliefs who think that “free speech” only applies to people they personally agree with

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