OpinionYour “free speech” is denying mine

Fighting for the right to deplatform hate speech
Benjamin GonzalezFebruary 14, 201933302 min
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Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

“I don’t like what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.” A powerful phrase which, although might be a bit cliché at this point, has significant implications for the way in which we view free speech in our country. Not only does the law protect you from being persecuted for your views, but we will actively work to provide you with a platform to say them so that we may criticize and analyze them to find the truth. In a romantic sense, this sounds perfect: no matter what the opinion, we will gladly amplify it in the “free marketplace of ideas” because surely the best ideas will always come out on top.

Unfortunately, this idealistic view of the freedom of speech doesn’t quite add up. Taking the supposedly neutral stance that all speech should be completely unrestricted in the name of freedom is a position itself because some types of speech unavoidably restrict other types. If we were to let a white nationalist take the stage in Laurie Auditorium — which, arguably, we have — the crux of their argument would center on the supposed superiority of their race over others and therefore support the silencing of black and brown voices who want their rights to be recognized. So in a choice between having a civil rights advocate or a white nationalist speak to us, whose voice are we going to choose?

Now, maybe that seems like an extreme example, so let’s think about something closer to our home and our current time. In the spring of 2017, Tigers for Liberty (TFL) brought political commentator Dinesh D’Souza to campus to speak about the current political landscape in the age of Trump. Among many things, D’Souza spoke about the fascism of the Democratic party, who supported policies of segregation and racism a century ago and who maintain crumbling cities and welfare systems today that supposedly keep minorities in a state of poverty.

Putting aside the gross abuse of historical facts — which you can read about being debunked in a thread by historian Kevin Kruse — he then moved on to talk about how undocumented immigrants to the United States do not have rights because they are not citizens and therefore the U.S. Constitution does not apply to them. How ironic that D’Souza moved directly from calling his opponents fascists to arguing that the rights of undocumented immigrants are irrelevant. The natural conclusion of this argument, of course, is to say that we can abuse undocumented immigrants however we like for the sake of national security, because they do not fall under the protections guaranteed by our constitution.

In this supposedly free marketplace of ideas, where on earth are the voices of undocumented immigrants who would prefer their children were not separated from them and placed in cages? There was no undocumented immigrant in the crowd who could stand up during the Q&A section and refute his arguments, and why would there be? Why would someone whose very existence is being trivialized by a speaker go into that crowd of D’Souza supporters and run the risk of being harassed or reported to ICE? When one person’s free speech is actively suppressing the free speech of another, the free marketplace of ideas no longer applies. At that point, we are merely providing a quick and easy way for racists and xenophobes to spout their abusive beliefs with no meaningful counter-argument.

At the beginning of the event, which TFL had touted as an example of free speech prevailing over those oppressive liberals, TFL co-founder Jonah Wendt introduced the speaker with a rule about audience behavior: “If there is a minor disturbance, there will not be any action. If you do it again, we’ll throw you out.” How interesting that in this free-speech-loving, no-safe-zone political event, Dinesh D’Souza couldn’t handle any crazy liberals speaking out against him. It seems as though the most extreme members of the right only like free speech when it suits them. So how neutral of a stance really is it?

Yes, our constitution allows you to say whatever you please (within limits) without fear from being punished for it by the government. But that does not mean we should actively promote oppressive speech that advocates for the removal of rights for certain groups of people. Just like how YouTube has a right to ban Alex Jones from their privately-owned platform for promoting harmful narratives and theories, we Trinity students should be able to deny racists and xenophobes from using our university as a megaphone for their harmful ideologies. Maybe we should question why SGA just approved $5,000 of Student Activity Fee money for another speaker from the Young Conservatives of Texas (previously TFL) while denying the same amount to the Trinitonian to provide free advertising to student organizations. While supposedly defending free speech, we should make sure we aren’t accidentally neglecting the common interests of our peers. Because if we don’t, those previously-dismissed crackpot conservative theories might begin to become mainstream thought.

Benjamin Gonzalez

| Class of 2020 | Major: Anthropology

3 comments

  • Angelique Lopez '22

    February 14, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    Milo isn’t a white nationalist, and I don’t think YCT’s speakers would be able to shut down anyone’s arguments voices because of the color of their skin, nor would they want to. Simply stating things does not “actively” shut down the voices of undocumented immigrants, unless the speaker is explicitly calling his audience to “actively suppress the free speech of another.” Unless D’Souza did this, he is not responsible for others’ actions. And even if people didn’t try to counter D’Souza’s statements because they were afraid of being “reported to ICE,” I’m sure others would be able to make a counterargument if they had any.

    Please define “harmful ideologies” because unless D’Souza explicitly called for the violence or harassment of others, or explicitly threatened anyone, I think he should welcome to exercise his freedom of speech here at Trinity, whether I disagree with him or not.

    In general, people are responsible for their own actions. If we start saying that certain people’s words are harmful in that they might influence others indirectly, that could lead to a dangerous downward spiral into certain unwanted censorship of things that aren’t all that harmful unless others allow them to be to their own persons.

    Reply

  • JB

    February 15, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    There’s a lot wrong with this article and I would love to spend the next 20 minutes dissecting it, but that job has already been done. Head over to Dean Tuttle’s blog and read “Sticks and Stones and Tigers for Liberty,” which he wrote shortly before D’Souza spoke on campus. The Dean advocated attending the talks and debating with the speaker during the Q&A. A similar method was advocated by the Trinitonian in the piece “Disrupting D’Souza.” It seems that the Trinity administration is squarely against your conclusions in this post.

    That’s not to say Dean Tuttle agreed with what D’Souza spoke about. I attended that talk and spoke with the dean shortly after the talk ended. He did not have positive things to say about the speaker. Neither did the handful of students who challenged D’Souza during the Q&A. There was hardly a chorus of dissenting students; in fact, most the auditorium was filled with non-students. Many students had a problem that D’Souza was invited, yet very few of them showed up to expose him. Instead of asking why these speakers are allowed in the first place, perhaps you should question why there wasn’t a line of dissenters ready to argue with D’Souza once the floor was opened to Q&A.

    Reply

  • JR

    February 17, 2019 at 12:04 am

    Lmao the above comment mentions Dean Tuttle as if the man isn’t known for ignoring minority students’ grievances. Good article.

    Reply

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