Editorial: Is hate speech still free speech?

Fareed Zakaria aptly noted in his 2017 Commencement address at the University that “the purpose of the liberal arts has [always] been to hear people out [and] listen to opposing views.” And in theory, that sounds like a laudable goal: a goal that we can all, as members of the University community, get behind. But when free speech goes too far, we instinctively reel back. What transpired in Charlottesville, Va. on August 12, an attack that occurred in a university community nonetheless, brings to light important conversations about the limitations of free speech.

Let us be clear: we do not condone hate speech on our campus. We vehemently oppose the use of language that condones fascism, racism, and white supremacy or seeks to validate claims that support such ideologies.

However, as members of The Bucknellian, it is imperative to factor in our role as a student newspaper organization. Our role as student journalists allows us to inform and engage our community based on mutual respect for one another’s opinions and differences. We are extremely cognizant that having the ability to express ideas (be they not of the majority opinion) is still a right. It is a right that we as a nation, a campus, and a media organization will not compromise under any circumstances.

On the one hand, we must work tirelessly to foster the supportive learning community of which this University takes such pride and ownership. We should take a supportive role in exposing our students, faculty, and staff to diverse ideologies and beliefs.

On the other hand, we cannot shelter nor censor views with which we disagree. We should look to our undergraduate experiences as an opportunity, a privilege, and an obligation to hear different perspectives and evaluate our own opinions in light of different perspectives, so long as they are articulated respectfully.

We should also lead by example. Perhaps we begin by changing the culture of how we speak to each other and how we, as a publication, communicate information and identify these perspectives. If we can eliminate hate speech on a smaller scale and from our vocabularies, we can prevent the spread of toxic, ignorant language and action.

What transpired in Charlottesville serves as a reminder that the issues facing our society should be solved with discussion rather than violence. It is okay to disagree with one another; we encourage debate, discussion, and frankly, disagreement, in our Opinions section. But, it is wholly unacceptable to let disagreements escalate into violent conflicts.

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