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Are Americans Abusing Their Right to Free Speech?

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What do China, Russia and Turkey have in common? They are a few countries that implement strict censorship policies with state-controlled media to inhibit the freedom of speech. In these countries, political or religious dissenters can face a lifetime in prison, be sent to intensive labor camps, or even risk being killed for publicly expressing their opinions.  

Having freedom of speech is one the first fundamental rights outlined in the American Constitutional Amendments, and numerous Supreme Court cases ruled in its favor to back it.  It has proven to be a defining part of American culture. Since it’s inception, American citizens have made their willingness to exercise this freedom abundantly clear by openly sharing religious and political views.

We are not taking advantage of the power we have as Americans to freely advocate for what we believe in without our government punishing us. Instead, a number of Americans are focusing on the the fear of offending people, while others are irrationally targeting minorities with hateful speech and actions. Outlets, such as social media, can be used to broadcast these fears and ideas. Freedom of speech is not being able to say whatever you want with no repercussions, it simply means that our government can’t come after us.

The increasing number of Americans who continue to abuse their right to free speech by protesting and rioting for unreasonable causes is very alarming. Some have been using “free speech” as a guise for their hateful actions and violence, which was seen recently in Charllottesville. American White Supremacists have ignorantly expressed their fears and insecurities by trying to scapegoat several ethnic minority groups as causes of the nation’s issues. These kinds of actions are used as an example to facilitate the passage of strict speech-control laws by authoritarian governments. Also, protests as a result of exposure to differing opinions or political views have been plaguing our nation. Conservative speakers, such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Steve Bannon, have been met with massive crowds of angry protesters after speaking at a “Free Speech Week” event at the liberal University of California, Berkeley earlier this year.

Being able to vote for our government is something that many people around the world will never experience in their lifetimes with the existence of dictatorships and fraudulent elections. Even publicly speaking against a head of state can be punishable by law in over a dozen countries worldwide, as well as protests. According to many news reports, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recently claimed “Freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack.”  Universities across the country, such as Boise State University in Idaho and Clemson University in South Carolina, have created policies which ban individuals from making statements that could be considered offensive. He said:

“Freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack. The American university was once the centre of academic freedom, a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas. But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogeneous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”

Based on my experience as a student, the lack of thought diversity is very clear in classroom discussions. Sessions believes that American universities are dominated by leftist ideologies and not taking into consideration factors that generally impact political views such as geography, income, culture, and religious background of the population. For example, liberals in schools located in rural and predominantly Republican states such as “Ole Miss” in Mississippi, where the Confederate flag was proudly flying as recently as two years ago.

Sessions has also implied that it is not just students who are to blame for the diminishing emergence of new or different ideas. Educators are often guilty of contributing to the spread of homogenous thought and ideas by consistently vocalizing their views to students instead of inspiring debate. Expressing personal biases is unavoidable for educators, but when it is present in excess, it robs the classroom of competitive thought. Many students often trust the words of their teachers or professors and take it as fact without question. By not promoting an environment where students can question ideas, teachers breed followers, people who don’t think for themselves. Disagreement will happen, but it helps students learn to defend their ideas and be open to different ones.
Schools should be utilized as a space for learning and sharing ideas, but it is impossible when students are often only exposed to one kind of thinking. Students and educators should be open to differing and opposing views rather than shutting them out. Sometimes the topics that make us uncomfortable need to be discussed because they are relevant to our lives. We are taking our freedom of speech for granted and wasting it to be unreasonable. Americans should be more conscious of their rights.

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Are Americans Abusing Their Right to Free Speech?