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Hate speech is free speech, too

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Who do you think supports free speech more, Democrats or Republicans? While Republicans are viewed as supporters of economic freedom, it’s often Democrats who have the reputation as defenders of civil rights.

So why is it that Republicans seem to be more in favor of protecting the freedom of speech than Democrats?

In their 2016 party platform, the Republican National Committee stated that we should not infringe on freedom of speech in the name of political correctness and that “limits on political speech serve only to protect the powerful and insulate incumbent officeholders.”

However, the Democratic National Committee states that while they believe freedom of expression is a “fundamental constitutional principle,” they condemn hate speech that “creates a fertile climate for violence.”

According to Pew Research, 83 percent of Trump supporters polled said that they believe too many people are easily offended, compared to the 59 percent of Clinton supporters who think “people need to exercise caution in speaking to avoid offending others” and the 39 percent who said too many are easily offended. In this election, it seems freedom of speech is on everyone’s mind.

In the last year alone, we have seen limitations on the freedom of speech in politics, on college campuses and, surprisingly, in Halloween supply stores, all justified in the name of preventing hate speech and avoiding giving offense.

Last year, a petition was launched on against Spirit Halloween’s Caitlyn Jenner costume, calling for the store to “revoke [their] ideas and production of a Caitlyn Jenner costume for Halloween,” garnering 19,193 supporters. And this year, the University of Florida offered counseling to students who are offended by any costumes they see and urged their students to “think about your choices of costumes and themes.”

While political correctness fuels much of the free speech debate, safe spaces and trigger warnings have also been used as excuses to limit freedom of speech. This August, the University of Chicago took a stand against free-speech limitations by sending a letter to incoming freshmen stating their disapproval of trigger warnings in the name of academic freedom.

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” Dean of Students John Ellison said in the letter.

On the other hand, at Northwestern University, which is neighbors with University of Chicago, President Morton Schapiro wrote to the Washington Post explaining “why safe spaces for students are important,” citing that “students don’t fully embrace uncomfortable learning unless they are themselves comfortable.”

What these proponents for limiting free speech seem to forget is what a freedom truly is. A freedom is a universal liberty, meaning it cannot be given to some and not to others. Once we start placing limitations on the First Amendment, we shift from having the freedom to speak to the privilege to speak.

If we decide to limit the freedom of speech, we must understand that we may not be the ones who will decide the limitations.

That raises the question: Who gets to decide what is offensive or inappropriate or dangerous? Will it be the rich and powerful in government? Will it be the academic elite? Will it be religious leaders?

Free speech is all or nothing – either we decide to limit it, or we decide to give free speech to all.

That doesn’t mean you have to like what they say. That doesn’t mean you have to let it define you. If something someone says bothers you and you want to do something about it, don’t try to bend the law and take away their rights because that will only put your same rights at risk, too.

Instead, exercise your right to speak and debate. More speech – not less – is the best cure for hateful speech.

The Patriot Guard Riders exercise this truth perfectly. The Westboro Baptist Church has infamously disrupted funerals of fallen soldiers, telling their families and friends that their loved one died because God was punishing our country for tolerating homosexuality.

While the Patriot Guard Riders understand that Westboro Baptist Church has a right to be present and protest, they also recognize that they share the same right, which is why the Patriot Guard Riders rev up their engines when the church begins to shout or sing patriotic songs if their demonstration gets too loud.

If you don’t like the tone of our country – if you disapprove of offensive comments, racism or intolerance – don’t counteract that behavior with the same intolerance. Instead, fight back with your words and exercise your freedom of speech.

Staff editorials are written by the editors-in-chief and agreed upon by the editorial board. The following count represents our editorial board’s stance on the editorial. As always, letters to the editor on the editorial are always encouraged.

Agree: 11/11

Abstain: 0/11

Disagree: 0/11

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