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Friday, December 8, 2023


Freedom of speech works both ways on campus

American universities are spaces where ideas are raised, where we learn and begin to understand our freedoms to be individuals who speak our minds. | Ajani Stewart/The Cougar

Frederick Douglass said: “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

Everyone has the same right to use their First Amendment right as long as they can do it in the proper place with proper consent. Even if they are proclaiming hateful rhetoric. Just the same way that someone who disagrees can set up across the street and publicly disagree.

During our time in college we are exposed to a whole new world. As an out of state student from Missouri, coming to the University of Houston was the first time I saw such a diverse population in such a concentrated area. This diversity is something that draws many to this University — not just the variety of race and religion, but the variety of thought.

This diversity of thought is something often extremely underrated in our academic community.

American universities are spaces where ideas are raised, where we learn and begin to understand our freedoms, our freedoms to be an individual and our freedoms to speak our minds.

The free-speech-on-campus argument often comes from a conservative platform. Conservatives have been fighting to make sure their leaders have a platform to speak. One of these controversial leaders is Milo Yiannopoulos.

Yiannopoulos performs a far-right comedy show that minimizes sexual assault, domestic violence, feminism and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. While many don’t agree with Milo’s sentiments, he does have the right to speak.

A common misconception is that free speech and assembly are allowed everywhere.

A plethora of Supreme Court cases and years of policies in the making has slowly put limits on our right to free speech and assembly.

Some of those limits include: libel, slander, fighting words and national security.

A college campus often creates zones of free speech. One of these zones on the UH campus is in front of the library in Butler Plaza.

This is why you often see the group of middle-aged white men with signs accusing students of witchcraft, adultery and sin. However, this assemblage is not acceptable throughout campus.

The Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian organization that began in 2008, started a movement to tear down the idea of free-speech zones on campus to allow for students to exercise their rights anywhere and everywhere. The issue with this is that that is not the reality. The freedoms protected by the First Amendment have their limits. There is a chapter established at UH.

Freedom of assembly is often met with filling out city paperwork to meet the requirements set by city code for safety.

The same standard is held for universities who lack the adequate funding for a campus police force that can handle large crowds or does not want to risk intervening and further agitating protesters.

However, in most instances, Milo has the proper approval to host gatherings and events for people to hear his show. He often gets invited and sponsored by the College Republicans.

By being sponsored by a registered student organization, he has been given a platform at the University. He is given the right to speak.

What many people forget is that freedom of speech is a two-way street and often comes with consequences. Just as Milo has the right to speak, offended students have the right to resist or counter his sentiments.

This does not condone the actions of the Berkeley protesters who rioted and prevented Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus, but it serves as a reminder that both sides have a voice and have rights.

But both sides face the consequences. Berkeley protesters may get arrested or kicked out to school for defacing property or breaking school policies. Their speech, however, is protected.

If Yiannopoulos or other prominent leaders spew racists comments or marginalize a community, the marginalized have every right to speak out and demand that the person be held accountable. If a high-level official at a university said racist comments, they could be fired. Not because they don’t have the right to speak their mind, but because they, as an employee, no longer represent the interests of the university or the students.

Universities should foster civic discourse and diversity of thought. However, as students, we must remember that with freedom comes responsibility. Everyone has the right to say what they want, but this does not free them from the consequences of their statements.

Even if ones does not agree with Yiannopoulos, his freedom should be respected and acknowledged. By being open to acknowledging his rights opens the gates for student to engage civic discourse, question ideas, and respect others freedoms without name calling or insults.

Liberals calling for justice and providing legal pushback against Milo are not crying snowflakes and not all conservatives who entertain Milo’s rhetoric are misogynistic, racist, neo-nazis.
This type of name calling, while one’s right, deters from civic discourse and progress.

People from all sides of the political spectrum share the same basic rights and whether that is protesting a president or hosting a controversial speaker, the right to speak your mind, should hold value.

Delaney Catlettstout is a political science senior and can be reached at [email protected]

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