Author: Nicole Commisso
Every year the third full week of October (this year – October 16-22, 2017) is National Free Speech Week (FSW), an annual non-partisan, non-ideological event that recognizes and raises public awareness of the importance of free speech in our great country. FSW is intended to unify all Americans and celebrate the importance of the freedom we should never take for granted. Personally, I do not believe we should even need a week out of the year dedicated to free speech in order to understand the importance of it – however, for some people nowadays it’s essential.
Being a college student who strongly values her right to free speech in today’s society can be challenging as there are students, faculty, and administrators who have their own interpretation of free speech. For those who are fuzzy on the First Amendment of the Constitution, it clearly states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Although instances such as defamation (libel and slander) and perjury are not protected by the First Amendment, things like “hate speech” or offensive speech, whether you like it or not, are in fact fully protected. Unfortunately, it is becoming more prevalent that some fragile individuals think that if someone says something they do not like, then the other person does not have the right to say it. This is false. In fact, back in June 2017 the Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed (in a case that was argued before Justice Neil Gorsuch was appointed) that there is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment.
Even with all of the fallacies that “hate speech” is not protected by the First Amendment, most tend not to understand that there is a huge generalization in this false notion. What one might consider is “hate speech” could most likely be completely different from what someone else may think. Something as insignificant as making fun of someone’s shirt could be considered hate speech to some while others may believe that making racist, derogatory remarks is hate speech. Whether either situation is right or wrong or actually “hate speech”, it does not matter – both are very much protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Just because you don’t like what someone has to say does not mean they do not have the right to say it. In addition, just because you don’t like what someone says does not mean others do not have the right to read it or hear it. Freedom of the press is a significant part of the First Amendment as it gives people the right to not only speak or write on a platform but for others to read or listen to what they want. Last time I checked this is America, where every American citizen has the right to freedom of speech, which includes speech that you may disagree with.
Spring semester of last academic year I wrote and publicly defended an op-ed piece for my college newspaper that many students, professors, and administrators did not agree with. Many claimed that I did not have the right to voice my opinion — while in fact, thanks to the First Amendment, I absolutely did. This right that I demonstrate consistently, for instance, through writing op-ed pieces or the most popular one for many today — social media outlets — should never be threatened — especially not by individuals who are worried about getting their feelings hurt with words. These social justice warriors trying to limit our free speech need to wake up and realize this is a dangerous game they’re playing. The rights we have as American citizens are incredible privileges that many others do not have. Especially as a woman, I am grateful to live in this country with equal rights and equal opportunity for all.
To have a different opinion from someone else falls under the protection of the First Amendment. If you break and crumble at the moment someone disagrees with you or says something you do not like, reality and the real world is clearly not your cup of tea. Take a moment and think of how fake and boring this world would be if everyone agreed on everything and tip-toed around each others’ feelings. For me, however, as a proud American, every week is free speech week.