The Right to Preach

Exploring the First Amendment on campus

By Karrie Comfort Staff Writer 

The open air preachers were back on campus, bringing with them controversy and arguing, but in my eyes, the argument wasn’t about religion.

“We should just ban them,” my friends said. “They don’t help anything anyways.”

Aside from the tiny stairs, I would have to say the on-campus preachers are perhaps one of my least favorite things on campus. I assume most of you would agree. As someone who would identify as a Christian, I think the gospel is a message that should be spread without being watered down, but most certainly not with anger, but in love.

However, as much as I don’t support the opinions of the picketing shouters, I do support their right to voice them.

Unpopular opinions are not inherently correct. Some opinions are distinctly unpopular because they are objectively wrong. For example, some ideas that we might consider unpopular because they are very untrue might include: the flat earth theory and Holocaust denial.

On the other hand, historically, there were quite a few causes and ideas that were initially unpopular, but that the average American wouldn’t ever think of questioning, like the fight for women’s suffrage or the immorality of slavery.

The correctness or popularity of an opinion is not what should be used to determine whether or not it should be voiced: all speech is allowed because it is an American right.

Of course, if the speakers on campus ever were to incite violence directly with their words or threaten their listeners, then that would be a different case.

But as it stands, under the First amendment, free speech for on-campus preachers is  here to stay.

Unfortunately, the right to free speech on campus is not always supported by administration.

Recently, a controversial play scheduled to perform at the Carpenter Center titled, “N*gger. Wetb*ck. Ch*nk.” was cancelled, ultimately leading to Michele Roberge’s resignation  after a 14 year tenure as executive director of the center. Although the issue was more due to students poor response to the play, it does beg the question: just because students don’t like an opinion does that not mean it is an idea that should be left behind?

Both the cancellation of the play and my friend’s desire to have open air preachers banned, highlight a frightening fact:  college students aren’t aware of the full extent of the First Amendment, and how this might affect both their own and others’ free speech on campus.

As a student in the Journalism department and in conjunction with my Mass Media Law class, I went out and asked ten students what they knew about free speech.

Very few students knew what the First Amendment entailed. Some students seemed concerned that speech was being restricted, while others thought it was “abused” and used to  justify saying awful things about people. Everyone agreed that for the most part speech was being able to say what you wanted as long as you didn’t “violate someone else’s rights.”

The college campus could possibly be the most important place for free speech to be alive and thriving.  College is where students protested the draft, where students bring to the table controversial topics, and where many students gathered to elect the first black president. Who needs free speech more than a college campus?!

Although, I may not agree with all opinions brought on campus or proposed by students, I know that it is imperative that each voice be allowed to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

As Evelyn Beatrice Hall once said, “I may not agree with what you are saying, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

I am a journalist, and I will defend your right to speak your opinion whether or not it conflicts with mine: I would hope you would do the same for me.

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