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    The line between civility and free speech 

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    Debates have sprung up for centuries regarding the right to free speech and the limitations that should be placed on this crucial right. The first Amendment of the United States Constitution first granted American citizens the right to free speech in 1791, as it was proposed in the Bill of Rights. This right allows citizens to express any opinions without censorship or restraint. As time has progressed on, people found that there are many controversial topics that take place which leads to citizens expressing their opinion. For example, free speech on campus concerns the debate about whether people should have to restrict certain kinds of speech on campus, such as hate and debate speeches.

    The pros of having free speech on campus is that it allows more academic diversity, allows discussion surrounding controversial issues, and allows students to cope with having to hear how others feel, despite how ignorant, insulting, and uncivil it may be. The cons of free speech is that it causes a fight between students, and makes people on campus feel unsafe and uncomfortable on campus. Yet the question remains, should there be limitations on free speech, especially in regards to college grounds? In the texts, “Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces” by John Palfrey and Catherine Nolan-Ferrell’s “Balancing Classroom Civility and Free Speech”, it becomes evident that free speech is an excellent tool to be used when being done respectfully and efficiently; however, if it there are no boundaries, it can definitely become negative. Respect remains the key component as to whether or not the line between civility and free speech will be drawn.

    To many, free speech is the most important right in The Constitution because it remains the basis of each citizen’s freedom in this country. Without free speech, the United States government could easily be able to prosecute a citizen simply based on any idea or thought expressed. This would no doubt limit opinions and the gift of being able to learn from others, as well as see things through other’s point of views. While these are all positive aspects for the country, limitations should still remain when using this right. For example, a limitation that is already placed on citizens surrounding this right would be that we are not allowed to harm others to get what we want. This would include using this free speech right for force, fraud, or defamation. Restrictions, such as this one, allow this right to continue to flourish while also holding citizen’s accountable if it becomes a right that causes harm to others. Free speech only remains a right when it is used in a moral manner and the line between civility and free speech is clearly distinguished.

    There is no doubt that as a collective, this country believes that free speech should be a universal right; however, there are many people who believe that free speech should still be limited, for example, on college campuses. In Nolan-Ferrell’s essay, “Balancing Classroom Civility and Free Speech”, he states that UTSA has a policy highlighting that “students share in the obligation to maintain a classroom environment that is conducive to learning. Accordingly, students are prohibited in engaging in any behavior that obstructs, disrupts, or interferes with any class.” This seems to be a rule that is set in most, if not, all classrooms in the nation (written or not).

    Free speech is highly encouraged, but once it begins to disrupt other’s peace, that is when people are able to draw the line. Important national figures such as Donald Trump, president of The United States, and advocate for free speech on campus believes that campuses should not place limits on free speech because it allows academic diversity. He feels as though Universities have tried to restrict free thought and impose conformity, and he wanted to declare change. After student activists met with and told him that they felt like their conservative views were suppressed at universities, he decided to sign an executive order to protect freedom of speech on college campuses. Trump then gave students a few words of advice, explaining that people can have different views, “but they have to let you speak.” By this he means that being able to have freedom of speech on campus allows others to be heard and gives everyone the chance to use their voice. President Donald Trump, is not the only one that feels that it is important for students to be able to voice their thoughts on college campuses. According to The Washington Post,“Freedom of speech is central to these students’ academic mission”, says Svrluga. She believes that it is important for students to express their thoughts on their academic journey because it can pave a way for their success and allows them to grow into stronger individuals.

    Respect definitely becomes the number one problem when analyzing the issue between free speech and civility, especially in crowded spaces, such as a college campus. Allowing students to have free speech on campus has resulted in fights and anger. According to the CNN article written by Emanuella Grinberg and Eliott C. McLaughlin, a fight broke out at Auburn University right before a man named Richard Spencer could open his mouth to present his speech. Since Spencer could not speak, a Spencer supporter then fought a student over his right to speak, which only led to students being locked in handcuffs and injured. The University had tried four days earlier to cancel Spencer’s speech Tuesday night, but a federal judge forced the public university to let him exercise his First Amendment rights.

    When Universities try to invite guest speakers to speak on campus, there are some students who are not too fond of the idea because of the topic the speaker chooses to discuss. Certain topics have come off to be offensive, alarming and have rubbed students the wrong way. While this may seem very harmful, it is actually the necessary tool needed to implement growth and broaden vision in students. Returning to the ideas presented in the essay “Balancing Classroom Civility and Free Speech” by Nolan-Ferell, she makes it evident that she wanted her classroom students “to realize that they could disagree with one another, but still recognize value in those that held different viewpoints.” This is a major part of respect, and without this crucial component, it is impossible to remain civil while disagreeing and putting this free speech right to use in a public setting.

    Universities have tried to prevent heated arguments/debates from occurring on campus due to free speech, but it is clear that these fights or debates are what contribute to a stronger democracy. This is an idea that is greatly expressed in John Palfrey’s “Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces”, where, throughout, Palfrey emphasizes building inclusive educational institutions that honor freedom of expression. He believes that these are the type of institutions that create a learning environment and emulate the democracy America is (or aiming to be). Former president, Barack Obama, was also an advocate for free speech. He feels that students should be willing to hear the other side of the argument because if they are always trying to shut people up, there will never be change in the world. Obama states, “Being a good citizen, being an activist, involves hearing the other side and making sure that you are engaging in a dialogue because that’s also how change happens.” He is right, I never thought about it like that. You can’t be an activist if you can’t handle other activists.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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