Free speech: An endangered necessity

A man holds a sign saying “Free speech = a free nation” at a free speech rally. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A man holds a sign saying “Free speech = a free nation” at a free speech rally. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tyler Balsbaugh, Staff Writer

Countries around the world admire the United States, mainly because of the equality and freedom offered to all. The most important of these rights, in my eyes, is freedom of speech. But how do Americans view free speech, and do we really value it as much as we should?

Currently, free speech is under attack: college campuses silence speakers that don’t fit their agendas, people petition to stop speakers that say “politically incorrect” things, and there have even been counter protests to free speech rallies where people mask themselves as heroes who “fight fascism.”

Police block off roads in anticipation for protesters against a conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos. Source: Wikimedia Commons

As far as I can tell, we Americans no longer hold freedom of speech upon the pedestal it deserves. Americans are fighting back against speech they don’t agree with, and people with ideas that might be deemed “controversial” are becoming more and more afraid to voice their opinions.

A recent poll put out by Cato Institute revealed that of people who would categorize themselves as “moderate” on the political spectrum, 57% feel as though the “political climate prevents [them] from saying what [they] believe.”

This number raises to 76% for people who label themselves as a “strong conservative” and lowers to 30% for a self labeled “strong liberal.”

This is what scares me, across the boardregardless of political stanceat least one-fifth of the associated group feels that there are issues that can’t even be talked about; in a time such as this in our country I feel we need the ability to say what we believe more so than ever before.

George Orwell, the author of literary classics such as Animal Farm and 1984, made in his preface to Animal Farm a quote that perfectly fits our time: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Freedom of speech is incredibly important for the success of society, as it allows the exchange of ideas and opinions, and threats against it should be treated seriously.

Recently in Canada, a new bill was passed called “Bill C-16.” It states that “Everyone who, by communicating statements, other that in private conversation, willfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or an offence punishable on summary conviction.”

These “identifiable groups” are part of Canada’s Human Rights Act and include “race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics…”

This law has allowed the government to regulate an individual’s speech, and is exactly what many people in America fear. It doesn’t matter how evil you personally think the speech is, as long as it is not openly inciting violence or any illegal activities, it is that person’s constitutional right to express their beliefs.

Is it morally right to belittle someone based on their religion, race, sexuality or ideas? Of course not, but we can’t take away a fundamental right from someone based on their morality, much less enact laws that would make such speech illegal. Implementing such a law can only open up the opportunity for more and more speech to be regulated, and then who gets to decide what speech is legal and what is not?