UC Berkeley has been a hot topic of discussion in the news lately, due to students’ protestations against Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter for speaking on campus, under the belief that both presenters incite hate speech and advocate harassment of certain groups of people.
Incidents such as this raise questions about the definition of free speech. What should or should not be said in public? Why do we even have the First Amendment, and what does it protect?
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of expression, religion, and the right to assemble. Nowhere in the amendment does it say “hate speech” is forbidden. The government has no right to prohibit any form of speech or limit the rights of citizens to assemble. However, the issue does not involve the government so much as it involves the people.
It is not the government who is preventing Yiannopoulos and Coulter from exercising their freedom of speech — it is the very citizens of our country. So why are we so afraid of what these conservatives have to say? Freedom of speech means freedom of speech. Unless these political figures have advocated acts of violence toward specific groups of people or encouraged violence of any form, their words essentially mean nothing. It is unfair to allow liberals to vocalize their opinions on controversial topics such as gay marriage and abortion, but conservatives cannot.
Limiting oneself to the views of their own and objecting others’ is far more harmful than hearing them out, no matter how radical or questionable they may be. We cannot distinguish right from wrong if we only choose to hear what we believe is right. We must have several perspectives in order to think critically and to make fair decisions.
Several media outlets have questioned the behavior of Berkeley students and their understanding, or rather, misunderstanding, of the First Amendment. Their protests caused $100,000 in damages and stopped Yiannopoulos from ever setting foot on campus.
Resorting to violence, for whatever cause, is not a sound solution to a problem. It does more harm than good, needless to say. And Berkeley’s actions are only adding fuel to the fire, giving conservatives the right to point fingers at liberals and accuse them of stripping them of their rights.
When we begin to shun and shut out the other side for what they have to say, that is when the very foundation of our democracy has crumbled.
As Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”