Millennials question free speech


Nikol Slatinska

Are Americans taking their advantage of First Amendment rights too far? According to data from the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of millennials think so and would be okay with limiting free speech if it meant protecting minority groups.
Margaret Russell, a professor of Constitutional law at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, believes it is more impactful to protest and speak out against hate speech than forbidding it outright.
“I think that banning speech is usually problematic because of the difficulty of identifying consistent definitions of what is ‘harmful,’” Russell said. “Why should the government define what is ‘offensive’ when we all have differing views?”
Russell tells her students it is imperative to act against offensive speech if they think the First Amendment should not protect it, and that giving up control to the government disempowers the public.
Senior LaTia Glasgow said even more problems would arise if the government tried to limit free speech.
Overall, she believes free speech should never be restricted, and that anyone should be able to express their opinions even if they are offensive because being American grants that freedom.
“Although protecting people of color is important, I do not believe that we should take away people’s rights in order to prevent hurt feelings, because it’s impossible,” Glasgow said. “These amendments are what our country is based on, and violating them would make our country ‘less free.’”
Limiting free speech will actually oppress minorities even more, said Katie Barrows, who is speaking for the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
The organization’s mission is to sustain individual rights at American colleges. Its experience with the topic of free speech showed that students who have no tolerance toward subjects they disagree with are the ones that call for censorship of speech.
President and CEO of FIRE, Greg Lukianoff, stated that students “are arguing not for freedom of speech, but, rather, freedom from speech.”
“As history proves, restricting freedom of expression always works to the detriment of oppressed minorities,” Barrows said. “Instead of shutting down bad ideas and hateful language, offensive speech should be met with more speech.”
Barrows pointed out that President Obama spoke on the matter, saying, “…you don’t have to be fearful of somebody spouting bad ideas. Just out-argue them. Beat ’em. Make the case as to why they’re wrong. Win over adherents. That’s how things work in a democracy.”
In terms of why millennials are more open to the idea of limiting speech as opposed to older generations, Russell believes it has to do with the fact that there is more awareness of the underlying issues of racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry in today’s world.
Many of today’s college students come from protective childhoods, Barrows argued. Adults go out of their way to make sure their children are safe, sheltering them from opposing viewpoints.
“Our culture has become more partisan and with each side retreating into its own echo chambers. It’s therefore unsurprising that students arrive at college expecting comfort and ideological purity,” Barrows said. “Lastly, social media has transformed the landscape for today’s college students: it allows them to demand solidarity and shun those who stray from the accepted view.”
In past years, the destructive effects of hateful slurs was not displayed as publicly as it is today, which ultimately led to older generations not being mindful of the offensiveness of some derogatory terms, Russell said.
“Education, empowerment and communication are key in the struggle to eliminate bias,” Russell said. “I find that the more we integrate our everyday experiences with people of different backgrounds, the more stimulating and enlightening our understanding of bigotry and its effects.”
Barrows agrees that the best education is speech, and that when bad ideas are refuted everyone benefits.
“Responding to hateful speech with more speech promotes critical thinking,” Barrows said, “which challenges us to analyze why we believe the things we do.”
art by Shelby Yount
Do you think free speech should be limited if it it offensive to minorities? Leave a comment below!