The True Meaning of Free Speech

By Emily Kulp, Opinions Editor

At the University of California, Berkeley, during the years of 1964 and 1965, the Free Speech Movement arose, a student protest against the school’s restriction of political activity. 52 years later, the University of California, Berkeley has been repeatedly linked to controversies representing a decline in freedom of speech.

In February, crowds of violent protesters at the university prevented Milo Yiannopoulos, ultra-conservative political commentator, from speaking. Now, another conservative commentator, Ann Coulter, has revealed she cancelled her scheduled appearance at the University of California, Berkley due to a lack of support and threats of violent protests. She recently communicated to the New York Times, “It’s a sad day for free speech.”

It is strange that the University of California, Berkeley, which was originally the site of prominent protests for free speech, has recently become a hotbed for protests and threats of violence in response to conservative speakers. Most college students and campuses tend to be liberal, but if we cannot accept the voices of those we do not agree with, are we really preserving free speech?

Clearly, many students at the University of California, Berkley feel afraid or threatened by the ultra-conservative messages Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter bring to their campus. Yet fighting against these ideas with violence will not make them disappear. If the students of University of California, Berkeley continue to drive speakers with whom they disagree away from their campus, they will miss important conversations and moments to challenge and strengthen their own beliefs.

As I am sure that the students who participated in the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s would agree, there is nothing selective about free speech. The hallmark of free speech is that we are all able to voice our opinions, no matter what we believe in. Of course, it is always the choice of student groups or the college itself whether they invite a speaker. Yet once a speaker has been invited, threatening their viewpoints with violence solves nothing. By discovering why a particular speaker is feared by a college community and proceeding to ask the speaker questions about their beliefs, students will learn far more than if they seek to shut out the speaker’s opinions with violence.

If the students of University of California, Berkeley value their ability to speak their minds, they should welcome new viewpoints at their college, especially those that differ from their own. Turning away visitors with violence or threats shows a lack of understanding of what it means to give everyone an equal chance to speak their minds. Free speech cannot exist selectively. It must either apply to all of us, or none of us. Instead of fearing difference, students must create dialogue with what is unknown to begin to expand their own and others’ viewpoints and, ultimately, honor the true meaning of free speech.

Photo Courtesy of toledoblade.com

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