The Right To Free Speech Protects Our Rights, Too

Hal Conte

Like many of my fellow students,
I am appalled by the behavior
and presence of Pastor Aden
on campus. I have witnessed
nearly all of his visits, and they
only seem to escalate in
vulgarity, inappropriateness
and dangerousness.

Most of us, I think, believe
that his views are not legitimate
and serve no useful academic
purpose, in a community devoted
to in inquiry and critical thought.

Yet, in a way, his right to speak
on campus is what defends our
own abilities to, as the constitution
of Pennsylvania says, “freely
speak, write and print on any subject.”
This is, as the constitution
says, “one of the inherent rights
of mankind.”

Talk of universal rights that
protect even the most vulgar hate
speech may appear like an 18th
century relic to many students
here. In an era where racism,
sexism, intersectional inequality,
homophobia, anti-Semitism and
Islamophobia are quite rightly
recognized as serious threats to
civilized values, some say that
exceptions should be made to free
speech in order to protect people
from offense and harm.

Yet freedom of speech, thought
and the press have been con
sidered essential tools by progressives
and forward-thinking
people of all ages. Why? Simply
put: those in power would be
the ones to decide how hate
speech, banned speech, or fake
news, would be interpreted.

As public power resides with
elected officials, a Republican
Congress could, if hate speech
were enshrined as an exception
to free speech, consider honest
discussion of racism and privilege
to be “racist” towards whites. The
Trump administration could
suppress what they call “fake news,”
in other words, the country’s major
publishing organizations like
the New York Times and CNN.

For all of its gaping flaws,
the US Constitution gives us as
students more freedom to speak
our mind than our contemporaries
in even the most progressive of
countries: France’s Emmanuel
Macron, for example, has used a
well-meaning law against anti-Semitic
hate speech to ban student
campaigns to boycott Israel.

As John Petito, professor of history
at Bucks, regularly says, “the
First Amendment cases brought
to the Supreme Court aren’t about
letting a grandmother put up a
bake sale sign, but about the most
repugnant of people: Nazis, KKK,
and the like. Yet the founders
included it because it safeguards
all speech.”

There were times in American
history where birth control
information, socialist magazines,
LGBTQIA+ books, anti-slavery
and anti-war literature were considered
“obscene” and banned by
the states or by colleges. About 50
years ago, these restrictions were
largely outlawed by a progressive
Supreme Court, and all of these
formally banned publications can
be found on campus. Today, some
on the left, right, and center find
free speech inconvenient once

I believe that the college has
taken the correct approach in
dealing with Pastor Aden. I
personally wish he could disappear
and never return to campus.
However, my fellow students
should understand that silencing
him could silence all of us, too.