Universities are bastions of erudition that serve to promote the free interchange of ideas. ASU has advanced intellectual diversity on campus by welcoming speakers from opposite ends of the religious spectrum, from atheist Richard Dawkins (who spoke to students in 2008 and 2009) to Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias — who is speaking this Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Arena.
As students, we welcome this professional debate of ideas and the opportunity to be challenged. But what if we ourselves were restricted from exercising our free speech rights on campus?
Alarmingly, according to research by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), of the 364 college institutions studied, approximately 270 of them — 74 percent — maintain policies or “free speech zones” that clearly restrict speech that would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment.
Free speech zones, which are the exact opposite of what their name implies, are designated areas (often tiny) on college campuses in which students can protest or advocate an issue of their choice. While such zones may seem like a good idea to promote a formal, healthy learning environment, they do not teach students respect for free speech or the value of freedom of speech — instead free speech zones send the message that speech should be repressed.
You may not like the group of political, social or religious activists who stand on campus and make their positions or beliefs known to passersby, but guess what? It is their First Amendment right to do so.
Their presence or rhetoric might upset you or interrupt your otherwise peaceful day, but your desire to not be bothered or inconvenienced does not trump their free speech rights. Exposure to free speech, whether you consent with it or not, is one of the rights and privileges of living in America’s free society.
Free speech zones are indicative of an escalating erosion of American’s constitutional rights to free speech, but infringing upon students’ rights to challenge or disseminate information on their college campuses has exceeded such restrictions.
At universities such as Yale and Nicholls State, students have destroyed and stolen campus newspapers to suppress any articles that they dislike. Students should not be censoring each other: How is one to receive a well-rounded education if one does not permit the liberty of expression and ideas?
And at Harvard College, a speaker was invited to speak on a panel about the future of U.S. immigration, but then disinvited when the students organizing the panel found out the speaker was against immigration. Harvard students (and students across the country) are taking it upon themselves to be the new “speech police,” and their censorship is ultimately destroying the basis of all liberty.
“We the people” is not powerful unless we have the freedom to exercise our constitutional free speech rights where we wish and when we wish. I do not advocate yelling “fire” in a movie theatre, but only under specific instances such as the latter should free speech ever be restricted.
Embrace the free exchange of ideas of campus and in society. For all its appearance, annoying, loud or sometimes offensive, free speech is the foundation of our country — it enabled its establishment and will sustain our country if only allowed to remain an unalienable right.
Jennifer is exercising her free speech rights through this column. Exercise yours and write her at email@example.com