Freedom of speech is one of the most cherished rights in the United States. However, it seems that many do not understand what it truly means, and why it is important.
It is not surprising that members of the campus community throw out the term “free speech” so liberally, when we see a person such as radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger claim violation of her freedom of speech when she felt public pressure after aggressively repeating racial epithets on the air.
College Republicans / Ann Coulter, December 2008 & February 2009
In the fall semester of 2008, the College Republicans decided to bring controversial political pundit, Ann Coulter, to speak in Kendall Hall. As expected, many on campus were disturbed by the College Republicans’ invitation of such a divisive and deeply offensive figure, as well as the event’s $22,800 price tag.
Angered students formed a movement against Coulter, and organized a walk-out protest during her February 18th lecture. They then proceeded to Brower Student Center to hold a rally, where students spoke openly about their opinions of current events, and Coulter herself.
The lecture quickly became a large campus controversy, and predictably, the topic of “free speech” and what constitutes a “free speech” issue arose. Many defenders of Coulter’s visit invoked the First Amendment when arguing against the movement.
TCNJ alumnus S. Lee Whitesell made a statement in opposition to the student movement: “I am not exactly sure what hate speech means or why it would not be protected by the First Amendment,” [The Signal – Opinion piece, March 4th]. Many College Republicans and other Coulter supporters echoed this sentiment, deriding the campus left for only supporting freedom of speech when it suits liberal interests.
However, many believed that this argument was irrational and reflected a lack of knowledge regarding the first amendment, as the campus left did defend Coulter’s right to express herself — and had no plans to prevent the lecture from taking place. Instead, they countered what they viewed as hate speech with a more productive and tolerant discussion.