Free speech is not always agreeable


Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

Recently I had the chance to peruse Joshua Anaya’s op-ed on Theresa May speaking on campus. His response did not surprise me, and he made some articulate and concerning points. But I am not writing simply to agree with him — I cannot imagine that would make for an interesting read.

I found myself shaking my head at his response because it so typically represents the attitude of many progressives. As someone who actively supported Senator Warren during the primaries, I have plenty to disagree with when it comes to Theresa May. Does that mean that I think those I disagree with should not come to campus? Absolutely not.

The principles of diversity do not just extend to those of differing races, genders, sexual orientations and class, but also to thought. Far too often, we find ourselves confined within the smug, entitled, insulated leftism that accompanies most private universities. I myself have been guilty of that at times. But does that mean that we should fall victim to it permanently? Should we reject alternative viewpoints? No. The enlightened rhetoric of our glorious Constitution should serve as a guide in all our endeavors, and there was a reason why speech was included in the First Amendment.

Unlike what Anaya argued, I believe that bringing May to campus does not serve as a canonization or overt endorsement of her views. Rather it is the sacred, enshrined duty of Trinity to ensure that our liberal arts education is carried out to its fullest and that includes exposing us to viewpoints we deem objectionable.

Does that mean that we should lay back and accept what she had to say without question? No. Just because she is someone important does not mean that we have to censor our justifiable concerns about her actions as an elected figure. I applaud those who had the bravery to hand out pamphlets and argue against May. I would never say that they should not do that. Rather what I object to is the idea that we should only bring people to campus who are permissible within normalized standards of morality.

It should not be the responsibility of Trinity to regulate political speech nor the government. Morality and belief are matters of perspective, not orthodoxy, and we should behave accordingly. Morality changes with the times, and while I am firm in my belief that there are certain moral truths, such as the inherent superiority of republicanism, I do not believe that any governing institution should be setting a precedent of regulating speech because it supports the idea that it is the function of government to suppress speech it deems immoral. This could lead to tyranny. To the suppression of ideas that we might find not just permissible but just.

Some might question this approach. Should we permit Nazis or members of the Klan to march openly in our streets? Most everyone is filled with disgust at the idea. And while the comparison of May to a Nazi or a Klansman is a stretch, the logic is the same.

But I would like to direct the reader to the matter of precedent. Liberties we cede to the University or the Government are liberties we will not get back. It is the responsibility of Trinity as an institution that champions diversity in all forms to bring a variety of figures to campus, regardless of their political beliefs. In turn, we have the right to protest them. But does that mean that we should endeavor to prohibit them from speaking? No. Because open civil dialogue is the lifeblood of democracy, serving to further enrich our campus experience, deepen our tolerance, as well as perhaps change some of our views by exposure to new ideas. I would expect nothing less from an institution that champions freedom to invite a diverse group of speakers to our campus.