The New York Times gave some space to a handful of UC Berkeley students this week where they were asked to share some thoughts on free speech ahead of the “Free Speech Week” scheduled to take place on campus. While the event itself has been apparently canceled by the Republican group that initiated it, several conservatives have said they still intend to show up and speak. That doesn’t sit well with some of the students, who gave their – quite un-American – thoughts about the First Amendment to the paper.
True, some of the students polled by the NY Times still had an understanding of what freedom of speech was all about. “I think that in order for speech to be free, all speech has to be free,” said law student Sarah Gallo. And that’s really the whole ballgame right there. That could have been the only opinion printed, and it would have done the Founding Fathers proud. That says it all! It doesn’t matter whether you think what someone says is beautiful or disgusting – the point is that they have the right to say it! That’s the whole foundation of the First Amendment, and it’s a defining principle of our great country. We don’t understand what’s so…hard to understand about that! But if you look at some of what the students wrote, you’ll see that it is, indeed, not well understood.
“Hate speech or speech that incites fear and violence against certain groups should not be allowed,” said Sabreen Abdelrahman. “It is illegal to shout fire in a closed room and this is no different. Some speakers are coming to ‘shout fire’ in a university campus and ignite hatred toward student communities on campus.”
You could hardly get further from the truth. The Times says that Abdelrahman is only 17 years old, but that’s still old enough to understand that you can’t compare “shouting fire” to an unpopular or controversial opinion…lest YOUR cherished opinions be the next to be banished. It’s really not that complicated.
And even if you used the age excuse, how would you defend 34-year-old Zachary Levenson, who told the paper: “Speech that questions the very humanity of any person on campus has no place in a university. Let’s call it what it is: hate speech. There are people claiming that certain members of our community are not fully human, and we’re being asked to legitimize this as an admissible argument?”
Who’s asking you to “legitimize” anything? (Also, who is “questioning the humanity” of anyone?) Free speech is free speech is free speech. That’s it! No one’s questioning anyone’s humanity, but thanks to arguments like yours, we have no choice but to question your intelligence…