Free speech may promote hateful rhetoric but can be beneficial

The controversy surrounding recent protests has a silver lining

Freedom of speech and expression is the foundation of a resilient democracy. Without it, other essential rights would likely fade. The current political climate has resulted in a surge of controversial protests and rallies.

While many students may feel uncomfortable with the hateful messages that are spread by groups such as the alt-right, their speeches and opinions are protected by the First Amendment. 

Although it might seem harmful to allow this kind of speech to be projected on campus, it is beneficial because it promotes open-mindedness. Students need to be exposed to different views so that they can develop and solidify their own ideas. It is better to choose to rise above hateful rhetoric than to pretend that it does not exist.

For example, University of California, Berkeley is currently under fire due to its cancellation of a speech to be given by Breitbart News Network's own, Milo Yiannopoulos. 

Back in February of this year a peaceful protest of 1,500 members turned violent at UC Berkeley when "150 masked agitators" joined the scene. The violence resulted in $150,000 in damages to the campus. Administrators eventually decided to cancel Yiannopoulos’ speech in the interest of campus safety and security. 

The University released a statement concerning the violence, which stated, “While Yiannopoulos' views, tactics and rhetoric are profoundly contrary to our own, we are bound by the Constitution, the law, our values and the campus's Principles of Community to enable free expression across the full spectrum of opinion and perspective,” 

After canceling the event, Berkeley received harsh backlash from critics claiming that they had violated the First Amendment. Berkeley maintained that the course of action taken was necessary to ensure safety on campus. 

Despite the unrest caused by the first scheduled appearance of Yiannopoulos, Berkeley has him scheduled to speak this week, during their Free Speech Week. Other notable headliners include former White House chief strategist under President Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and political commentator, Ann Coulter.

Although a visit from Milo Yiannopoulos will undoubtedly cause some unease and tension through the UC Berkeley community, the University made the right decision by inviting him back to campus. His visit will allow students to be exposed to views that differ from their own which fosters growth, and increases awareness.

“A free and democratic society allows for the unencumbered exchange of ideas, even those we find offensive or disagreeable," Jacob Harvey, AP U.S. government teacher at Hamilton High School and graduate legal studies student at ASU, said. "The court has ruled in cases like Texas v. Johnson that the First Amendment was not designed to protect speech we agree with, but in fact, quite the opposite,” 

ASU, like UC Berkeley, is a public university. This means that under the First Amendment, ASU is required to allow any opinion to be presented on campus. 

Having the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of opinions, as we see being done on UC Berkeley's campus, allows students to be more aware of what is going on in the world. 

An increase in awareness often results in an increase in community involvement. At large college campuses like ASU, the utilization of free speech could encourage students to become more active politically, socially and academically. 

There is a lot to be learned from the mistakes made at UC Berkeley. Free speech can be viewed as blessing, a curse or both. Regardless of one’s view on it, it is not going anywhere anytime soon. The best way to combat hate and division is to speak up and encourage support and unity. 


Reach the columnist at adunn11@asu.edu or follow @adrienne_dunn on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

Want to join the conversation? Send an email to opiniondesk.statepress@gmail.com. Keep letters under 500 words and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.