Guest column by Zach Brown, senior peace studies and political science major
I am a democrat. I love former President Barack Obama and I vigorously campaigned for Hillary Clinton to become our president. I support liberal candidates and progressive causes in our political environment.
I wanted to lead with that because, unfortunately, my opinion will be unfavorable to a sizeable percentage of the liberal community at Chapman.
Freedom of speech and freedom of expression have become conservative principles. I say this with anguish and disappointment, but this has become a reality on college and university campuses.
Freedom of speech is the first protection outlined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It protects the rights of individuals to freely and openly express their opinions, viewpoints and ideas without fear of persecution. The Founding Fathers understood the importance of free speech in a functioning and thriving democracy.
While the Supreme Court has issued limits on the First Amendment (such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater), it has also extended this protection to include hate and offensive speech, as seen in Brandenburg v. Ohio with the Ku Klux Klan, National Socialist Party v. Skokie with neo-Nazis, and Synder v. Phelps with the Westboro Baptist Church.
As every American should, I denounce and condemn these evil, poisonous and objectionable organizations. Hatred, bigotry and racism are prevalent, and they need to be addressed without hesitation. However, every organization and individual who prescribes to these deplorable values has a constitutional right to express them without inciting violence. It is not our job to deny them this right. Rather, it is our job to fight against these repulsive viewpoints with our own exercise of peaceful free speech.
But on college campuses, students have become increasingly distracted and have illogically extended the definition of hate speech to include differing speech. We have witnessed this at Berkeley, the College of William of Mary, Cardiff University, UCLA, the University of Wisconsin Madison, and numerous other campuses across the country. Students eradicate differences of opinion and preserve an echo chamber of liberal principles that are regarded as unobjectionable truths. We have perpetuated a cycle of labeling conservatives as racist, xenophobic and prejudice without allowing the necessary dialogue to understand their perspective and encourage healthy debate. If we have the right answers, why are we afraid to hear the other side? Show up and tell them why they are wrong. Don’t hide behind the safe space curtain. We should not be promoting social tolerance at the expense of political tolerance. We can still advocate for minority and marginalized communities while upholding the letter and spirit of the First Amendment.
At the administrative level, it is undemocratic and antithetical to the university’s character to preserve the viewpoints of a small group of students at the expense of broader intellectual growth that would otherwise be afforded to the greater student body. It gives me optimism that the Chapman administration has not surrendered to this counterproductive impulse. A university campus is designed to inspire conversation and advocate for an exchange of ideas, which provides the necessary foundation to form a complete opinion. I hope that Chapman administrators will continue to protect and safeguard this proposition.
As college students, we should be conversing, debating and promoting more political discourse, not less. Free speech and intellectual freedom are among the founding principles that ensure the sustenance of our democracy. We need to bolster and defend those liberties. We don’t need to be tolerant of racism, anti-Semitism, or bigotry, but we must be tolerant of conservatism, and any other ideology we might disagree with. In fact, I am confident that many of you will disagree with the argument I have just outlined, but that is the beauty and uniqueness of America. Debate me. Tell me why I am wrong. This is the strategy that liberals need to employ in order to recapture a majority in American politics. If we continue down this road of misconception and delusion, the next election will look a lot like the last.