Article by Jacob Burke.
FIRST AMENDMENT — Freedom of speech is arguably the most important right that Americans are endowed by the Constitution.
After all, the First Amendment does guarantee Americans the fundamental rights to things such as religion, petition, speech, and expression.
One very notorious area for conflicts with free speech, however, is the college campus: a hall of academia, where professors and students of different backgrounds, opinions, and lifestyles are placed in the same educational facility — where lives are supposed to change — and where the future of the country is at its most vulnerable.
In 2012, for instance, a non-profit organization — Young Americans for Liberty (an organization I happen to be a member of) — had a student chapter at conflict with the University of Cincinnati. The dispute? A college “free speech zone” that was far too restricting.
What is a “free speech zone”? It is essentially the First Amendment-friendly equivalent of a safe space: a place for students who want to exercise their rights to freedom of speech, religion, or otherwise. The problem of course being just how binding this is. In the civil affair of Young Americans for Liberty v. University of Cincinnati — the case I alluded to earlier — the university in question had one free speech zone on campus that covered 0.1 percent of the campus’s total spans.
This essentially meant that the other 99.9 percent of the campus was not protective of freedom of speech, and the First Amendment was under assault. The importance of free speech — in college no less — is an exposure to foreign or dissenting opinions; or in the wake of revolution, the freedom to wage what is potentially the most powerful form of warfare known to humankind: a war of ideas. The battle of ideologies is, after all, what separated the United States from the British Empire on July 4, 1776. It is what gave India its independence from that same empire on August 15, 1947, and it is what allows the more than 200 sovereign nations that exist today to remain so.
One of Liberty’s greatest allies, for instance, is Dr. Ron Paul. He is quite possibly one of the most famous icons in the history of the American Liberty movement. Ron is a man I had the pleasure of meeting in a Boston event with Young Americans for Liberty, and in his twelve-term career as a Texas Congressman, his consistency did not waver: making him one of our nation’s most fascinating advocates for the Constitution.
In a 2008 Republican Presidential debate, Dr. Paul was quoted as saying, “We don’t have the First Amendment so we can talk about the weather. We have the First Amendment so we can say some very controversial things!”
Dr. Paul recognizes the significance of the First Amendment, and gets the idea that college campus administrators don’t: the First Amendment was not created to be regulated by feelings. The problem with campus policies on speech (like the “free speech zone”) is that it sets the precedent, and teaches students, that the First Amendment is a fallible thing that shifts based on subjective emotions. The First Amendment is the First of ten in the Bill of Rights. The Forefathers knew of its importance, and did not intend for it to be trampled on within a few centuries.
College campuses must open up students’ exposure to new ideas, or more campuses will be sued, students will leave college with skewed grasps of how the world works, and this encumbered-with-debt generation will continue to suffer the consequences. Students will continue taking sociology degrees that have little-to-no value in the job market, thinking they are advocating for progress and social justice, but soon realize that the ideas market does not welcome their opinions without scrutiny, and they will wind up unable to cope with that.
To quote Thomas Jefferson, “Dissention is the greatest form of patriotism.”
We must preserve the First Amendment, or it — along with our slew of other rights — will die.