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Free speech must have its limits

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In 2016, a battle has erupted between political correctness and the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Where is the line in the sand between political correctness and free speech? Where is the line in the sand between respecting other individuals and our constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression?

Swarms of protests and lawsuits over gender inclusiveness — or lack thereof — sexuality, race and freedom of speech and expression are becoming the norm. These topics are in the news, daily.

Initially, I always viewed this topic in one way: My rights don’t end when your feelings get hurt. Sticks and stones, they are just words, respect is earned and not given.

To an extent, I still believe that political correctness has become a way for anyone to take a shot at their 15 minutes in front of the media or start another quasi-movement.

Know your space

I had the opportunity to attend a Center for Diversity and Inclusion workshop about inclusiveness a couple of weeks ago as a requirement of my student organization. I have to be honest about the whole experience. I now have a better understanding of the opposing viewpoint.

The two biggest takeaways from the workshop were pretty straightforward. There are different spaces, which permit absolute free speech, spaces that do not, and there is a certain level of respect that each person is entitled to.

The first concept involves space.

There is a private space: in your own home. There is a public space such as a cafeteria on campus. There are professional spaces such as work. The list goes on.

These spaces do limit freedom of speech in their own ways.  In your home, we all have the right to say, and, to an extent, do what we please.  In any private space, the rules of said space belong to the person who owns it. One could only hope that a decent person offers basic forms of respect to their guests.

In a professional space, one doesn’t call their boss certain words, although at some point we all feel the temptation. This is professional respect. Each boss and coworker is entitled to professional respect regardless of age, race, religion, sexual preference, gender or experience.

The workforce has already taken ample steps to become more inclusive and diverse. The easiest way to do this is to leave questionable jokes, stereotypes or vulgar discussions at home.

The depravity of free speech in the work place exists simply because those things do not belong in a professional environment. It has nothing to do with appeasement or censorship.

The last space I would like to mention is a public space like on campus.

Campuses have been known to harbor all forms of opinion, belief, and expression.  Censorship or limitations of speech of any kind should not exist in written policy. There are universities that strictly limit free speech under threat of student expulsion.

This is absolutely wrong.

On campus, everyone should be free to speak their mind and let ideas flow.  There’s a difference, however, between speaking freely and saying something because you can.

Words are important

Among the natural rights of every person on this earth is the right to dignity.  The proverb, “Respect is earned, not given” has its limits. Each individual is entitled to their respective practices, beliefs and identities in any space.

During the CDI workshop, there were suggestions about how to be more respectful and inclusive without limiting “free” speech. The suggestion that stood out most to me was to strike gender from your vocabulary, at least in a professional and public space; instead of the pronouns “his,” “him,” “her,” etc. — use “they” or “them.”

Instead of starting a speech with “Hello, ladies and gentlemen,” start with “Good morning (afternoon/evening) everyone.”  I do not see the difficulty in making a slight alteration of pronouns to extend respect to others.

This article from New York Times’ writer Jennifer Schuessler talks about free speech on campuses as well as in other spaces. The article also talks about general respect from one person to another.

In the article, Jerry Kang, UCLA’s vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, discusses interviewing large numbers of students who fight for free speech and inclusion. Kang said, “(The students) are fully committed to robust, uninhibited speech. But they also recognize that words matter.”

The point is that students and society can have it both ways as long as the line in the sand is not crossed. That line is drawn between natural respect and intentional hate, between speech extremism and censorship as well as between feelings and rights.

It’s simple — do not cross the line and be respectful of others.

Opinion columnist John Brucato is a economic senior and can be reached at [email protected]


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