A group of students at Western Washington University used their own right to free speech to disrupt a pro–free-speech lecture — calling the idea of complete free speech “violent” — and apparently, they don’t understand the irony.
According to an article in the school’s official student newspaper, the Western Front, Professor Jonathan Zimmerman was about to begin his “Censorship and Free Speech in the Age of Trump” lecture when he was disrupted by a group of students carrying signs reading “Advocating for the right to racist, sexist and transphobic speech is violent” and “Your safe space is violent.”
Now, at first glance, the messages on these signs might seem perfectly reasonable — or even kind. What decent person, after all, would defend sexist, racist, or transphobic speech? I certainly wouldn’t. Here’s the thing, though: These signs aren’t slamming those who advocate for hateful speech, they’re slamming those who advocate “the right” to this kind of speech. In other words: They’re slamming those who defend the First Amendment.
The First Amendment protects all kinds of speech. Yes, even hate speech, and it should. Why? Well, because if it didn’t, then the government would have the power to decide what did and did not qualify as “hate speech” — and the corresponding power to silence any speech that it deemed unacceptable.