COMMENTARY: Purpose of free speech is to protect hateful, offensive speech
Not too long ago, I helped host British journalist Milo Yiannopoulos with my organization, Young Americans for Liberty. But you already know that. You may have heard, perhaps, that Yiannopoulos and the people that defend him are “hateful.” That they are “misogynistic,” “racist,” “homophobic,” that our speech offers no value. This is patently false, and I would caution the left not to attempt to use conversation-killing buzzwords to attempt to end arguments before they begin.
First, to columnist José Sanchez and to all others that question the Constitutional basis for Yiannopoulos’s free speech: Yes, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. This was decided in 1992 in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul and later reaffirmed in 2011 in Snyder v. Phelps. No public institution can limit speech based on the content of the speech, excluding threats and physical incitement.
Sanchez refers to restrictions on free speech such as screaming “fire” in a crowded theater. He is referring to the famed case, Schenck v. U.S. (1919), which was overturned later by Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) to only exclude the incitement of unlawful actions. There can be time, place and manner restrictions on speech, but the courts have ruled that unless a viable alternative is provided, it is still censorship.
We violated none of these rules when we brought Yiannopoulos to speak — we made sure to follow all necessary procedures, and neither Yiannopoulos nor his supporters made any threats, harassed anyone or incited unlawful action. Ironically it was the protesters at the event that did these things. One attendee was punched in the face for filming a protester. They formed a ring around Scott Hall to repeatedly harass people leaving the event afterwards. There are also rumors of threats made toward Yiannopoulos during the event by the protesters, many of whom allegedly expressed their wish to physically harm him.
Yet despite all these things, despite their calls for segregated dorms and racial restructuring on university campuses, Sanchez refuses to even consider the similarities between Black Lives Matter and the KKK that Yiannopoulos chose to point out. This was not a hateful remark. It was an objective and valid political statement. The “wage gap” and “rape culture” on campuses are also very contentious subjects that by no means has the debate been concluded on, and in fact Yiannopoulos was willing to offer strong arguments against them. Of course, one would have had to listen to him to know that. To label disagreement in politics as hate speech is simply one of the ways the left attempts to poison real debate on these issues. And that’s exactly why we invited Yiannopoulos to come speak here. After all, as George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
The right to free speech is arguably one of the most important human rights in the world. We should be looking for ways to reduce the limits on free speech, not increase them. My final remark is to Chancellor Richard L. Edwards, who claimed in an email that inclusion and free speech need not be mutually exclusive. I fully agree with that statement, but it’s conveyance is misleading. While both free speech and inclusion are vital, the magnitude of free speech is more important than any arbitrary attempt to make sure people aren’t offended. And it is offensive speech that needs the most protection. No one challenges the right to acceptable speech. It is that speech that you find unacceptable that you must fight to defend, for when you defend another’s free speech, you defend your own.
Aviv Khavich is a School of Engineering first-year majoring in electrical engineering and computer engineering.
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