Free expression works both ways

In recent months, there has been a small influx of religious advocates occupying the walkway benches around campus.

At first glance, their demeanor does not differ from those who seek out students to complete surveys. But a brief conversation with them quickly reveals their true aim.

It was that exact surveyor-like posture that led me to lend one of them a few minutes of my time.

I was walking to my car one sunny Friday afternoon after my final class of the week; I was in no rush to get anywhere. Even if I was, it was a rush to get home and catch a nap after a long week.

Two gentlemen approached me as I was strolling and asked if they could speak with me. I figured a few minutes of questions would be child’s play compared to the hours of reading and typing the average college student goes through every week, so I gladly devoted to them my full attention.

It’s important to note that, even as an atheist, I can respect and appreciate religions and creeds of any kind. I’m a strong believer of free speech, and it’s critical to have environments for people to voice their thoughts without repercussions.

That being said, I didn’t have the slightest idea these gentlemen were about to preach to me about their faith. I was aware how my long weeks would deprive me of sleep and drain me of energy, but I never realized that my peripheral vision would be affected enough to make me miss the Bible sitting on the bench right in front of me.

Unintentionally enough, when questioned about what one of the greatest issues society faces, my answer comprised of a single word: “religion.” Little did I know that this would spark an awkward moment, followed by a friendly 10-minute debate.

But my sentiment wasn’t meant to attack or criticize the concept of religion as a whole, but to express a thought shared by many historians: the clash of diverse religions has resulted in many wars and conflicts throughout history.

Being rude was the least of my desires, and while these men may have been generous enough to agree that I wasn’t being vulgar, they felt obligated to preach to me about a set of beliefs that I’ve been all too familiar with and previously rejected.

Free speech is a wonderful concept, but it’s also as wonderful as the concept of selective exposure to free speech.

We can speak our minds and choose to listen to others with one ear; we can believe one idea and reject another. This is a fundamental aspect of the state of being we call freedom.

People who wish to preach a particular creed to students on campus are exercising their freedom to the fullest. Those who wish to decline to listen to what anyone has to say aren’t doing any different.

Newton Liu is a communication junior and may be contacted at [email protected]

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