Raising the Standard at UGA since 2013.

There is No Value in Speech Censorship

Free Speech in action at Tate Plaza. (Photo by Elizabeth Ridgeway)

Speech Codes and general speech censorship trends, seen too often at educational institutions around the country, serve little purpose but to fetter the proper functioning of the Marketplace of Ideas. 

Freedom of speech is under attack in America today. The infusion of political correctness into our society places too much value in censorship at the expense of protecting basic individual liberties. This is especially true on college campuses across the nation, where safe spaces, micro-aggressions, trigger warnings, posting policies, and speech codes reign supreme.

Public universities, where inhibiting free speech should be especially unacceptable, are where these types of policies are most heavily enforced. Speech codes are fundamentally unconstitutional. FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, categorizes a speech code “as any university regulation or policy that prohibits expression that would be protected by the First Amendment in society at large. Any policy—such as a harassment policy, a protest, and demonstration policy, or an IT acceptable use policy—can be a speech code if it prohibits protected speech or expression.”

As of 2015, 59% of private and 54% of public colleges imposed politically correct speech codes according to FIRE. Free speech and expression were so essential to the of the sustenance of the Republic that the founders of this great nation made it the absolute first amendment in the Constitution. Our ability to communicate and present different ideas to one another should be encouraged because it allows us to become more intellectually diverse. No matter how much you disagree with another individual, seeking refuge through speech codes is not the way to combat their ideology. When universities across the country adopt an attitude of close mindedness it is tragic because they are intended to be environments in which a student’s learning is challenged and stretched further than seems possible. Universities should be places where students are encouraged to actively engage in opposing ideas because opposition challenges us as individuals, and solidifies your own beliefs. The Marketplace of Ideas will naturally bring the best ideas to the forefront of academic and political discussion. Censorship throws a wrench into this process.

Indeed, words have tremendous power. Throughout history, dictatorial leaders who felt threatened by their inevitable fleeting power would burn books, fill jails, and coerce the Press. One hundred years before the rise of Hitler, Heinrich Heine, a German-Jewish poet, wrote, “Wherever books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too.” Today, Cuba ranks 7 on CPJ’s list of most censored countries. Cuba is also one of the world’s top jailers of reporters, second only to China, with 24 columnists who have been jailed. While force is used to coerce compliance, it does not produce any sort of lasting change. When the people don’t have the freedom to engage in the unfettered exchange of ideas, nothing improves. While it is neither expected nor (should it be) encouraged to take everything another individual says as absolute truth and accept it, we should be expected to respect other individuals enough to listen to them and not shy away from opposing ideas. Respectful opposition stretches minds, inspires learning, and fosters an environment of consequential compromise or, at least, discussion. The education one receives is of no value if one does not come in contact with opposing ideas that cause further evaluation previous worldviews.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro claims that the First Amendment is currently dead in America and that it has been for a while. Shapiro, who has had run-ins with heckling and speech suppression on college campuses, went on to say we have given up freedom of speech for political correctness, in the name of being nonoffensive. The United States is seemingly a divided nation at the moment. Why? Could it possibly be because at some point both sides stopped listening, and instead decided to search for ways to silence each other? The first amendment is one of the many principles that set this country apart from other nations. If Americans want to remain free, we should fight for freedom of all speech not freedom from certain speech. But, the First Amendment works both ways; you can’t use the First Amendment only when you have something to say and then ignore or silence those who disagree. Speech should be encouraged because it is the only way our country is going to be able to understand each other and heal the wounds of divisiveness. While you’re speaking, though, don’t forget to listen as well.

Erin Cooke is a recently transferred junior studying political science. She is a Turning Point USA Chapter Leader for the University of Georgia and a new contributor to The Arch Conservative.


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