In recent years, there have been multiple reports of free speech coming under attack at college campuses all across America. Students from coast to coast have been demanding that school policies change to cater to their personal identity or preferences. This leaves no room for a “marketplace of ideas” and free exchange. The First Amendment protects a majority of free speech with few exceptions. However, the most popular indictments against speech across campuses usually are against speech that is protected and most students aren’t aware of the difference. Why do certain groups fear the free speech so passionately? It has the power to cast spells on the masses, which is why free speech suppressors have been making tremendous strides to silence the power free speech.
In May 2017, students at Evergreen State College hosted “A Day of Absence,” which required white students, staff, and faculty to voluntarily leave school grounds for the event’s activities. However, Biology Professor Bret Weinstein, who’s self-labeled as “deeply progressive,” received deeper vitriol from the progressive student body for his opposition to the event when he branded it as a form of “racial segregation.” Weinstein was approached by a large group of students that began shouting directly at him, calling him a “racist” and accusing him of “supporting white supremacy.” Not only did Weinstein fear for his own safety for simply practicing his right to free speech, but students were also demanding that he should be fired.
Weinstein is just one example of many recent attacks on free speech across campuses. In February 2017, protests erupted into bloody violence causing $100,000 in damage when conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos spoke at UC Berkeley. In March, a speech given by political scientist Charles Murray at Middlebury College quickly ended when protestors accused Murray’s researched opinions as “deceptive statistics masking unfounded bigotry.” In April, conservative commentator Ann Coulter cancelled her speaking event at UC Berkeley due to large backlash that was building up amid fears of more violence erupting on campus.
There may be room to philosophically debate free speech but there’s no sufficient legal argument. The Supreme Court has ruled that the very few exceptions to free speech are fighting words, threats, child pornography, and a few others. Bigoted speech and “hate speech” that offends a person’s identity are protected under the First Amendment, unless these types of speech incite imminent violence. The aforementioned incidences are examples where people were within their legal right to free speech, so where’s the disconnect within these free speech suppressors?
A recent Gallup survey revealed that a majority of students from different political, racial, and ethnic backgrounds believe in free speech. However, when asked if they supported banning “hate speech” on college campuses, a huge majority agreed, failing to see how the two views contradict each other. Most students aren’t aware that “hate speech” (unless it incites violence) is actually protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. For example, a person could vehemently speak racial remarks in a way that could be considered “fighting words,” which is subject to the free speech exception. Those same (hate speech) words written on a picket sign would not fall under one of the unprotected categories. Perhaps there’s a hidden meaning why certain groups become so enraged at the idea of other people practicing their free speech.
The word “spell” has been recorded as early as the 16th century and means a “set of words with supposed magical or occult powers, incantation, charm.” Our brains respond in particular ways when it receives different words with different levels of sound and tone. Every time we write words, we cast spells. Have you ever become utterly enchanted by a well-spoken orator? Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy all have something in common – captivating, mystical, trance-like oration.
Whether certain speech suppressing groups realize it or not, this is what they fear most – a single piece of speech able to transcend the masses to believe an ideology that opposes theirs. As the free speech advocates from Gryffindor exercise that right, there will always be Slytherin activists attempting to silence that voice in a never-ending battle of good and evil spell casters.
Harry Potter references aside, in suppressed free speech environments where polemical discourse transpires, the marketplace of ideas becomes stifled. When free speech suppressors create a landscape of cultural homogeneity, diversity (the very thing certain free speech suppressors claim to promote) cannot thrive. Colleges should promote free speech while staying within the law and not cater to the demands of those trying to silence it. It has a magical ability to transcend the hearts and minds of the masses for better or for worse.