Free Speech…Enhances the Educational Experience or Destroys It? by Delia Major

The other day I was walking through the Quad on my way home and was distracted by what appeared to be an angry mob encircling a young man. My curiosity overcame me so I walked over with intentions to only observe. What I witnessed was a man claiming to be a Christian berating a group of students and essentially condemning those who do not adhere to the strict teachings of the Bible’s Old Testament. He claimed that homosexuality and abortion where sins against God, Christianity was the only true faith recognized by God, and that anyone found guilty of murder should be killed. Many of the students present were extremely young and new to the university experience, some were homosexual, others were of different religious faiths, and some of the young women may or may not have had abortions at some point in life. This man was filled with conviction for his faith and I can respect this, but I question his right to essentially verbally assault a crowd of young people with opposing beliefs (consider the Westboro Baptist Church).

The First Amendment grants us the right to free speech but do we not have the social, if not moral, responsibility to not use speech to harm others? In light of all of the recent suicides of young people caused by bullying and harshness towards their lifestyles, is it not the responsibility of a university to create a non-hostile environment for its young people. If so, then how do we do this? How do we not infringe upon one’s right to speak freely and at the same time assure that one’s speech does not infringe upon another’s right to maintain a non-hostile environment conducive to learning? Or is this smorgasbord of different people and different ideologies thrown together, when under normal circumstances they would never interact, what higher learning is all about?


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6 Responses to Free Speech…Enhances the Educational Experience or Destroys It? by Delia Major

  1. Delia M says:


  2. Mike says:

    Experiencing different points of view of religion is a big part of the Public University experience. College graduates tend to be more accepting of different religions and cultures because, in their studies, they learn to work with or around a large number of people who think differently from them. In a completely different light, the Westboro Baptist Church also has the very important right to protest and express their ugly and terrible views publicly and there is no way that right can be taken away. However, I would like to see restrictions placed on protesting funerals. These situations draw up strong emotions and I feel that they COULD fall under the ‘Fighting Words Doctrine’ as first articulated in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire . Not allowing these groups to express their RIDICULOUS opinions and beliefs would be an egregious imposition on one of the most important American rights, but limitations may be fair.

    • Delia says:

      Hey Mike! appreciate the feedback!!! So you suggest limitations but you also think FOS must be protected so how do you meander around this situation? What limitations do you suggest on this issue? You or I may think organisations like Westboro or the KKK are absolutely ridiculous but there are those who wholeheartedly believe in their message so where and how do we draw the line and decide what the public is or is not exposed to??? What a sticky situation…

  3. I believe that free speech does enhance the educational experience, and does so at all levels beginning from pre-school, if it were more encouraged! I have observed that as young kids we are learned that “Silence is Golden”. As children our rights of speech are taken away in schools and in many homes. For examples, when i was in elementary school, we had a stoplight that represented; green for free talk, yellow for talk only when necessary, and red for no talking at all. I don’t remember ever seeing the light green, and seldom yellow. Even in my son’s school, during non-instructional times, I have observed that the children are still not allowed to talk in more cases than where they can. Once we get to the high school level, we are then encouraged to do more talking, but some issues still remain un-free in educational systems. Once at the college level, we can do all of the talking that we want most times.
    Unfortunately because speech is so free at this point, a person is bombarded by new ideas coming from each and every way. Usually many people will chooses or have specific beliefs, but because of the “battle-royale” bombardment from both “anti” and “pro” ideas, passions usually take over where intellect should. The restraint of free speech in earlier education, inhibits the lessons of intellectual free speech and therefore seems destroyed at the higher education levels. By encouraging children to share ideas about our world, we then also teach them how to respect others, and decipher how to use the passions they have for their beliefs in ways other than starting riots (not saying that everyone who is passionate starts a riot)! Not everyone who practices free speech is a non-intellectual, but in the example that you provided, I’m sure it was. As for protesting and other methods of free speech, they are people’s rights, in which they should not be taken. As far as Free Speech itself, we do have to remember it was based on the principle that no matter how absurd the idea, or how offensive to others, and as long as it is within restraints of the law…anyone is allowed to freely express their beliefs!

    • Delia says:

      Well said Lyzander and thankyou for your feedback!!! Your points are very thought provoking. I agree that the primary educational process does appear to be designed to squelch creativity and thought as it manifests in communication ( I know I am straying from the subject a little bit ;p). Especially in public schools… Children are essentially cogs in the educational machine. Education is standardized and anything outside of the “powers that be’s” perception of relevance is tossed aside. Children and parents are expected to conform to these notions without question then BAM as soon as you enter an institution of higher education you are expected to be able to decipher, question, and articulate LOADS of information from various different perspectives…its unnerving!

  4. lamat says:

    great article…. I believe that everyone has a right to express their opinions. we may not always agree with the other persons point of view but FOS is very important.