Monday, November 18, 2013

Tennessee College Students Get a Lesson on the Meaning of Free Speech

A street preacher was preaching to university students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, i.e. on public property.  The police had cordoned off an area so the person so the person could speak without interference.  A student rides his bike into the area to confront and interrupt the speaker.  The police handled the matter appropriately and ended up arresting the bicyclist.


When I was in college at Ball State, there was a street preacher who would often stand near a busy sidewalk and preach fire and brimstone, condemning to hell BSU students for our sinful ways.  We did not interrupt him or heckle him.  While many students undoubtedly disagreed with the message being spoken, we understood that part of living in a free society is that we would sometimes be subjected to speech we did not agree with or which made us uncomfortable.   Frankly, we didn't take the speaker that seriously...most were thankful for the entertainment between classes.

Today, many in the younger generation feel they have some right to not to hear messages they find offensive or hateful.  Some even believe the authorities have a duty to protect their tender ears from disagreeable thoughts.  If the authorities don't act, they believe they have the right to shout down the speaker.  They are wrong on all counts.

Under the First Amendment, government doesn't get to pick and choose which speech it will allow based on the content of that speech. Government cannot silence speakers because a majority of people might find the message offensive or the speech filled with hate.  The First Amendment also does not give people the right to interrupt someone else's speech.  The First Amendment rather gives people the right to speak out, to counter the message they disagree with, with a message of their own.

It is a shame that there is such ignorance about our constitutional right to free speech, especially among college students.

23 comments:

Indy Rob said...

Free speech does not mean having the right to prevent anyone else from speaking. Even when it is a hellfire and brimstone speech.

I'm kinda disappointed in myself. I mean, I'm defending someone who uses the term "Lesbo" which I am not sure offends me more on an insult level or just poor grammar. At least Harry had good grammar.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Indy Rob, I wish I said it as succinctly as you did in Paragraph #1.

Regarding poor grammar, near the end of one of the videos I watched a person yelled out after the arrest, "You can go back to your hate speak now." It's hard to have sympathy for the speaker until you listen to the language of the punks who are trying to interfere with her speech.

draxolotl said...

I agree. Free speech does not mean having the right to prevent anyone else from speaking! What about the biker's First Amendment right to express his disagreement with the preacher?

I can't tell from the video for sure, but it looked like at first, he was just trying to pass through, and the security guards wouldn't let him. So the preacher gets to block a pedestrian pathway, thereby forcing people to listen to more of her message than they otherwise would of their own volition? Would the police have given the same privilege to someone who was trying to get people to bow down to Satan, the evil overlord? I doubt it. The police were in the wrong here. They should have protected the preacher's rights WITHOUT infringing on those of others.

Chris Long said...

Well, free speech is a sort of difficult question. As far as I see everybody tend to understand it the way it is convenient to them at a certain moment or at a certain point of their lives. Same here: preventing someone else from telling their points of view is not a free speech; this is a kid of a disagreement. As for the poor grammar…well this is a problem we have been quite for a while already. This is the very reason we now have that many online services similar to My Essay Service Company, you know. It should be a wakeup call for all of us.

Septly said...

I watched the video and I fail to see what the student did that would either not be considered an exercise of his own First Amendment rights or would support his arrest. In fact, I suspect the video will be introduced by the student's lawyers when he brings a civil lawsuit for his wrongful arrest.

You correctly point out that the First Amendment gives people the right to say things that may make others uncomfortable. However, you fail to acknowledge that the same First Amendment also gives people the right to criticize the speech of others.

If the student were being violent or threatening violence, then, yes, that would amount to illegal activity on his part, but he had a lawful right to talk back to the preacher and tell her he didn't agree with her yelling at people--the First Amendment gives him that right.

Also, at no time in the video did I witness the student either threaten the speaker or the police. He did argue with the security guard and the officer, but he did not do anything that would amount to a criminal offense or support his arrest. And, at the very end you clearly see him trying to turn around and cycle away when the officer for no reason suddenly lunges after him and arrests him.

I think the video is showing an infringement of an individual's First Amendment rights, but of the student, not the preacher. In short, you got it really wrong here, and you should review the video because you seem to be missing something.



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