Free speech is important, but it can be dangerous

Free speech is important, but it can be dangerous

Photo illustration CW / MK Holladay

Free speech: two words that are a cornerstone of our democracy. Where would we be without free speech? There would be no protests, no internet, no outspoken opposition to the powers-that-be. It’s right there in the First Amendment, in the opening lines of the Bill of Rights. It’s a freedom. It’s a protection. It’s a weapon. 

Without the freedom of speech, we would be caught in an Orwellian dystopia. “1984” would be more of a reality than fiction. That may seem a little melodramatic, and maybe it is, but I sincerely believe that the freedom of speech is what protects us from an overbearing government. Some people cling to their guns to protect themselves from tyranny. I prefer my speech. 

In North Korea, you can mysteriously disappear in the middle of the night simply for criticizing Kim Jong Un. North Koreans can’t open their mouths; they’re forced into blindly obeying their leader no matter how dictatorial and irrational he is. The freedom of speech protects Americans from that.

In China, you don’t have full access to information. Chinese citizens can’t use Google; they’re fed doctored information that mask the truth of their country. In the book “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited,” author Louisa Lim found that only 15 out of 100 Beijing University students could recognize the infamous “Tank Man” photo that symbolizes the event to the rest of the world. Free speech also ensures Americans have free access to information.

But, the freedom of speech can have potentially deadly consequences. It’s a freedom that is easily corrupted and abused. Because Americans are allowed to speak freely, literal Nazis can march in the streets and run people over with cars. The KKK can hold rallies. People can spew hateful messages online. Hate speech is not free speech, but where do we draw the line? 

Many conservatives and libertarians will argue that banning any speech, no matter how inflammatory, is the markings of an overbearing, dictatorial government. I disagree. Keeping Nazis out of our streets should be a no-brainer–something so uncontroversial that we shouldn’t even have to have debates about it. 

The KKK shouldn’t be allowed to hold rallies and openly discriminate against minorities. But people are so quick to defend free speech that they allow these actions to continue. I’ll repeat it again, hate speech is not free speech. 

Trying to ban Nazis from marching in the street isn’t an attempt to swaddle the American public in a giant safety blanket. It isn’t the left’s way of permanently declaring the United States a safe zone, rainbow sticker and all. It’s simply an effort to make America a country we can all be proud of. 

I want to be proud of my country. I want our politicians to be able to stand up on a national stage and say, ‘Yes we believe in free speech, but we also believe that hate and discrimination have no place here.’ 

Free speech is one of the most important freedoms we have, but it is also one of our most dangerous weapons. 

Chandler Gory is a junior majoring in journalism and political science. Her column runs biweekly. 

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