My Freedom of Speech

My+Freedom+of+Speech

Violet Wang, Reporter

You and I, as Americans, have the opportunity to create change. You and I have the chance to speak our opinions, to differ, to debate. Our democracy was cast by dissent and conversation, by activism and revolutionary ideas, but above all by a stubborn alliance to the notion that we are all created equal and each deserve a voice. 

The patriots of colonial times did not fight to exchange the tyranny of a monarchy with the ideas of a few. They bestowed upon us a government through the people—entrusting each generation to continually enliven our progress through the freedom to agree, but also agree to disagree. Ultimately, that’s how we expand our worldview and increase our understanding. Ideally, we want to hear from everyone, consider their views, then make up our own minds.

Considering the importance of the unrestricted flow in ideas, free speech is essential for civic education. It is not a value that we can take for granted, but one that we should exercise and protect. Yet, on school campuses across America, there are still restrictions. The Supreme Court Tinker v. Des Moines case concluded that students do not lose their First Amendment rights simply by walking onto a school campus. Yet, from stopping controversial debates to punishing students for their personal expression, universities still find ways to implement their own agenda by suppressing unpopular or dissenting speech. 

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently censored opinions about the Iraq War, prevented students from doing peaceful demonstrations, and shut down the posting of informative flyers, going as far to put up a fence across campus to hide protesters. Rather than respecting the First Amendment, they consciously chose a “controlled environment” to censor students from expressing their views simply because someone of higher power disagreed. While it is easy for schools to simply shut down these expressions, there is nothing done to change the root of the problem. 

At the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, a chancellor was punished for inviting a controversial educator to campus for a lecture. The UW system President concluded that he needed to exercise “better judgment” and even threatened his salary. By working to help students gain a different perspective, the Chancellor was punished with a permanent stain on his record simply because someone else had a different opinion. How can this be the liberty promised in our Constitution? Instead of trying to push uncomfortable topics under the rug, we should engage with them and include them in conversation to increase overall understanding and have informed personal opinions—not the ones curated for us by those in power. Schools are places of education, and when students speak out on their ideas, it should lead to engagement instead of unconstitutional punishment. 

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson said, “Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.” There’d be no point to the First Amendment if only popular ideas were protected; no one’s liberty is secure unless everyone’s freedom of speech is defended. We should not give one power the chance to decide which opinions are correct: history has taught us that these ideas are not absolute. 

At my high school, I make sure to engage in civil discourse by offering my perspective and listening to the views of others. When we accept that we each have something unique to offer to the conversation and work together to gain a broader understanding, progress can be made. It is our democracy, our republic, our City upon a Hill, and we have the power to shape it through civil discourse. 

Thus, the freedom of speech must be exercised and defended because it makes the United States unique and stronger. The exchange of experiences and perspectives helps everyone gain a broader understanding and a more informed opinion. By realizing that our individual expression, even if unpopular, matters, we can work towards a more perfect union. Real social change comes not from staying silent, but from civil discourse of debating and conversing and listening to create a thriving democratic society—one that our Founding Fathers could be proud of.