Is free speech no longer free?

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By Jeremy Moser | jmoser9@radford.edu

The right to free expression is the best idea to come out of the enlightenment era. The Founding Fathers understood this when they decided to place it number one in a list of fundamental restrictions placed on the government; Which created, for this little experiment of theirs called, the United States of America.

The U.S. Supreme Court has made rulings that allow for restrictions to be placed on some levels of speech, like demonstrations or marches, but only on when and where they can be held.

These “time, place, and manner” limitations must not be targeted towards any specific type of speech, like a particular political view or demonstrations surrounding one specific topic and cannot have little to no alternative ways for another speech to occur from it.

Radford is a public school, so it is held to constitutional standards. By this, it is taking advantage of those provisions and proposing some limitations on the ability for people to use the university campus as a forum for demonstration or debate.

These restrictions are intended to help guarantee the safety of people involved and are not meant to disrupt the debate. They only apply to people unaffiliated with the school, that is to say, those that are not students or faculty.

The university’s drafted rule changes would prohibit any unaffiliated demonstration on the school’s campus without 48 hours of notice. Any spontaneous gathering of ten or more people will be broken up.

The problem with this lies in the lack of any other options for timely demonstration. This is an inherently preventative measure. This is not a policy to make responding to a violent or dangerous outburst more manageable for the school; it is one that is meant to prevent them.

A 48 hour period between the inciting event and the date of the demonstration will inevitably reduce the number of people that would attend and handicap the energy of the protest.

America was very much founded upon the ideal of liberty over the comfort of safety. Every bit of our freedoms that we sacrifice in the name of a greater sense of societal protection is another gnaw at the rope that binds our country together.

On principle, I disagree with these restrictions. However, I believe that there is a more practical argument against free speech boundaries, and it requires a look into the past and the present.

Restrictions upon free speech inevitably tighten, rather than loosen.

As history has proven, an entity with power, once given the ability to abridge the rights of its constituents, will not relinquish it easily. From what we can see in the rest of the world, countries like China or members of the European Union also have no problem abusing these abilities to political ends.

These proposed university rules obviously don’t compare to political censorship, but they share an origin. Excessive government power comes from a populace that is more interested in safety and security than freedom.

We owe our country, our entire lives, and much of the Western world to the notion that these rights are not something that should ever be taken away. We must be vigilant, for here and in the rest of the world, our rights are in danger.

Photo Credit: (Daryan Shamkhali on Unsplash