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A Study of The True Meaning of Free Speech in Today's Society

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If Liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. Free Speech has been a major topic for years, controversies on different aspects of the 1st amendment have plague America for centuries. The limits of free speech are being pushed more than ever before in history, with people trying to figure out where freedom of speech applies in areas such as campuses and the internet. Many institutions have created a place for students to express themselves on campus. While other places such as Europe create a distinctive boundary on free speech.

Can you really practice free speech on campus? In the article “Brown University President: A Safe Space for Freedom of Expression” by Christine Paxson. According to Paxson private universities have the right to restrict freedom of speech from their students. But tend to not take such drastic measures because private institutions are a place of knowledge where uncomfortable topics such as racial inequality, slavery, and war were debated by students. Universities like the different opinions expressed by students with different ideologies because it creates the flow of ideas. Students should be able to learn and debate with others with different religions and ideologies. The result of this freedom of speech in institutions plays an important role in the learning process for students to help the students become their own person. Studies from Brown University found that students that had an environment to debate and express their opinions were more creative and innovative than others who did not have an environment to practice free speech. Paxson uses different examples of Safe Space through the decades, showing how safe spaces started as a place for students to practice hate speech for others such as Gays, Lesbians, and Trans genders. Till eventually become a place where students who were being marginalized came together to discuss their experiences. Universities created “Safe Spaces” which are small portions of campus where students can practice free speech on topics of their choosing. These Safe Spaces tend to take form as certain clubs such as Religious groups and Ethnic Groups so that people can express opinions and experiences with other like-minded people. In the article “Sorry, Kids the 1st Amendment does protect ‘Hate Speech’” by Michael McGough. In McGoughs Article a Survey was performed by McLaughlin & Associates for Yale University. The Surveyors found that 87% of students agreed that there is educational value in understanding other student’s ideas and opinions that may disagree from their own. While the other 21% of students agreed that the 1st amendment was outdated and can no longer be applied in today’s society. Debates on whether hate speech is covered by the 1st amendment continues. The Supreme court still hasn’t officially ruled that hate speech is covered in the 1st amendment, even if hate speech hasn’t been official covered under the 1st amendment. Some forms of hate speech are not protected. For example, in Supreme Court Case Beauharnais vs. Illinois in 1952, outlawed statements that expose religious and racial groups to contempt/hatred unless the speaker could show that the statements were true. Hate speech is not protected in the workplace, racial slurs with the intent of threatening others can create a hostile environment that courts treat as forms of discrimination. While Courts also address discrimination in the form of hate speech in universities, they are more controversial. Besides these situations the 1st amendment does protect hate speech especially in governments and state universities. But the exception is private universities that aren’t bound by the 1st amendment like public universities. So, private universities have the option to restrict freedom of speech if it causes harm or hatred for certain bodies of students.

What can America learn from Europeans Free Speech Doctrine? In the article “What Europe can Teach America About Free Speech” by Mila Versteeg. In the article Versteeg Emphasizes how current racial protests such as the Charlottesville Riots would have been put to a stop in Europe. According to Versteeg the much of the hate speech we witnessed in the United States would have qualified to be criminalized in European countries. Versteeg states “This trans-Atlantic difference is largely the product of Europe’s own history with Nazism.” This is because many Europeans share a history with Nazism and the current generations are still dealing with it. Versteeg also shares experiences of her own families’ past with Nazism, stating “On the eve of WWII, my working-class great-grandparents, like a large number of Dutch, joined the National Socialist Movement (NSB), a Nazi-aligned Dutch party. My family was poor, and joining the NSB improved my great-grandfather’s prospects for getting a factory job. Those who knew them insist that anti-Semitism did not motivate their decision to join the party. Still, they gradually started to buy into the party’s sinister ideology. After the war, my great-grandparents were imprisoned for their NSB affiliation.” The Europeans drive to crack down on hate speech concerning Nazism and the heinous acts performed like the holocaust is to preserve their image and the forget about their past mistakes. Because of these incidents after WWII Europeans created the Council of Europe which adopted the European Convention of Human Rights. This system protects freedom of speech to an extent and believes that freedom of speech is important but must be balanced with human dignity. This results in freedom of expression to restricted if it serves to spread incite, promote or justify hatred. Because of this Europeans have stopped the sale of Nazi memorabilia, Germany has banned any political party with Nazi ideologies, and even led Australia to arrest a historian who denied the holocaust. According to Versteeg this is why events like Charlottesville baffle Europeans when swastika flags are flowing free in the air. Theorist theorize that American free speech doctrines are used in order to create a immunity to offensive speech, making hate speech less and less effective. Versteeg offers another viewpoint that American free speech doctrine can be dangerous to let Nazi ideologies run free and could lead to another Nazi party. Many believe that white supremacy is growing with the recent election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. According to Versteeg a government system that does not police hate speech or other vile ideas, many of the burdens fall onto the citizens to police and govern hate speech. The 1st amendment does cover hate speech in America, but we can learn from Europe’s free speech doctrine and create a middle ground that the majority of people will accept.

Is the internet bound by the 1st amendment? In the article “Protecting the First Amendment in the Internet Age” by David Post. Post addresses the rising issue of freedom of speech on the internet. The rise was caused by the Islamic state and radical groups use of the internet for spreading propaganda. Many people are debating how the internet should be governed for propaganda. Post uses quotes from Senator Hillary Clinton “They are using websites, social media, chat rooms and other platforms to celebrate beheadings, recruit future terrorists, and call for attacks. We should work with host companies to shut them down.” This quote by Hillary Clinton is a major point that many politicians argue to censor internet websites that promote propaganda. Many scholars and Professors suggest that we should consider a law that makes it a crime to visit, encourage, and support websites that support radical groups such as ISIS. A quote from law professor Eric Posner from the University of Chicago, posner states “require internet companies such as Facebook and Twitter to remove ISIS-related propaganda from their websites.” Post argues against Clinton and Posners idea on censoring the internet. Post argues that the United States should be more tolerable for freedom of speech on the internet. As well as that we should not follow past events of censorship such as imprisonment of Nazi sympathizers during World War II and Southern Sympathizers un the Union during the Civil War. Post uses the quote “Do we really want government agents deciding which Internet sites glorify, express support for, or provide encouragement for ISIS?” This quote shows how post doesn’t agree with censoring free speech on the internet. Post also questions how government agencies would discover how people would visit these propaganda websites. This would cause unnecessary concern for other people to look over their shoulder whenever they visit a website. Post also suggests that freedom of speech fundamentals do not apply in today’s age of digital media such as snapchat and Instagram. It is reasonable for a country to try to control people’s freedom of speech during war times, but we shouldn’t punish people for creating propaganda. Another area that incites this problem is cyberbullying. In the article “Melania Trump picks her cause if she’s First lady: Cyberbullying” by Joe Mullin. In the article Mullin shows how First Lady Melanie trump tries to tackle the issue of cyberbullying in America. This topic has also sparked debate, stopping cyberbullying has proven to be a very difficult challenge. One of the many challenges talked about by Mullin is finding “Cyberbullies” and charging them with cyberbullying. Many use fake names and accounts to hide their identity making it very difficult to stop cyberbullying in America. The Internet is the equivalent to the wild west where people run free, saying whatever they want and doing whatever they want. Many argue that we need to censor the internet. But actually, censoring internet propaganda and cyberbullying will be one of the world’s biggest problems to solve and may never be solves. We can only monitor the propaganda and make sure it doesn’t incite any future conflicts.

The limits of free speech are being pushed everyday more than ever in history. Many people today are debating where the 1st amendment applies, in areas such as American universities and the internet. We can learn a lot from other countries freedom of speech doctrines such as Europe and china on how we can censor people. But many argue whether we should censor free speech. Institutions and government agencies shouldn’t censor people, but instead just monitor potentially dangerous people and websites. Instead they should try to prevent any future violent events that might be started from erratic people and websites.

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A Study of the True Meaning of Free Speech in Today’s Society. (2018, December 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from
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