Freedom of speech: A right or convenience

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Joseph Longo

Jlongo2@Radford.Edu

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The Freedom of Speech, protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, is a beautiful thing. It allows people to express their interests and ideas legally and without repercussions.    

   Granted, some speech isn’t fully protected by the Constitution, such as inciting imminent lawless action, fighting words, and true threats.

   Recently, Radford University became a full free speech zone, which means speech is protected on every single part of campus. Sounds like a good thing, right? In theory, yes, but in the past two semesters, two groups have come to Radford to express their theories, ideas, and interests; one being the Genocide Awareness Project, whose representatives visited our campus in November, bringing along a very graphic display depicting abortion, and the other being an evangelical group who refers to themselves as “The Church,” which made an appearance on campus last week, and one more time yesterday.

   Both groups, especially the evangelical group, sparked outrage and hysteria campus-wide to the point where the university felt it was necessary to send out a warning email to the entire student body.

   Part of the email stated “Based on last week’s experience, this team used language that was upsetting to many students, who may have found the group’s message offensive. If you would find such information personally upsetting, you may choose not to engage with the group or avoid passing through the Heth Clock Plaza area tomorrow.”

   I decided to attend the demonstration for about an hour, and things truly got nasty. Both “The Church” and the Radford student body were barking back and forth at each other, yelling, arguing, and doing anything but keeping the peace. “The Church’s” message was clear, the vast majority of Radford students were all going to Hell, because of the decisions we make on a daily basis, and it is on us to repent before we die.

   They blatantly denied facts, stating that the Earth is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old, and that Heaven has been proven to exist. The main preacher, who would refer to himself only as “God’s messenger,” told the males in the crowd that it’s imperative that we find a woman like his wife, who is submissive and will obey his every command.

   His son, who also didn’t release his name, looked to be no more than eight years old, and was called upon the crowd to take the microphone and to preach following his father. As soon as that began, the crowd burst out in a chant, yelling, “Brainwashed kids! Brainwashed kids!” over and over.

   The irony surrounding the circumstances is funny, in my opinion. In a poll of 30 students, 23 felt that the First Amendment is important when it comes to the freedoms of US citizens, and should not be changed or altered. Seven of the 30, however, felt that the First Amendment is outdated, and should be slightly revised to fit better with the America we live in now.

   One thing is for certain; it takes demonstrations like these to make people appreciate the freedoms we have as Americans. There are a plethora of countries on this Earth, in which speech isn’t protected. Demonstrations like the one on campus yesterday wouldn’t be possible to have in some areas overseas, and people preaching those ideas to that extent, could legally be whipped and stoned in the street, or tossed in jail.

    It really does put things into perspective. Would you rather be subjected to walking past a group of people yelling things you don’t believe to be true? Is it too much to ask to block these kinds of people out, and let them exercise their First Amendment rights, no matter how stupid they may look?

    If we, as a community, can learn to ignore these kinds of people, simply walk past them, not engage with them, and carry on with our lives, then First Amendment will be preserved, which it should.

   One can only hope the continuation of demonstrations such as these does not lead to legislation on a local and national level banning this kind of speech. Free Speech is beautiful, and it is up to us to subject ourselves to only what we want.