Molotov cocktails and bricks are flying at former bastions of free speech like UC Berkeley. Conservatives are right that these violent protests from college liberals are an attack on free expression, but it’s more than just “whiny snowflakes” on campus who endanger this fundamental right. While these foolish protests over controversial speakers like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos pose a threat to free speech, it’s still the government that puts it in the most peril.
Reporters Without Borders recently released its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, in which it ranks 180 countries on a variety of free speech issues such as surveillance, censorship, and crackdowns on espionage and whistleblowers. The United States fell two spots this year to 43rd in the world.
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Students’ free speech rights are constantly suppressed across American college campuses. Recently, a student sued Los Angeles Pierce College after he was prohibited from passing out pocket constitutions outside the college’s “free speech zone”, which confines speech activities to a small outdoor area.
Harvard is no exception; it has speech codes that clearly infringe upon students’ First Amendment rights. One example is Harvard’s racial harassment policy, which bars students from “using racial epithets, making racially derogatory remarks, and using racial stereotypes.” The wording used in this speech code is far too vague and therefore threatensstudents’ free speech rights.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Harvard is a private institution and is not legally bound by the First Amendment. However, Harvard is considered to be an institution that encourages America’s best and brightest to pursue truth. In order to do so effectively, Harvard must foster diversity in intellectual thought and therefore respect students’ right to free speech, regardless of how different and controversial it may be.
However, Harvard was given a “red light” categorization by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for having at least one policy that obstructs freedom of speech. FIRE is a non-profit organization that “defends and sustains individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.” Harvard’s “red light” policy defines racial harassment “as actions on the part of an individual or group that demean or abuse another individual or group because of racial or ethnic background. Such actions may include, but are not restricted to, using racial epithets, making racially derogatory remarks, and using racial stereotypes.” We must keep in mind that what is offensive to one person may not be offensive to another.
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