Columns, Opinion

BERMAN: Freedom of speech is everyone’s right

If I were to rank the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights from most significant to least significant, at the top of the list is the First Amendment. This sacred amendment even affords me the right to agree with Bill Maher that Donald Trump’s birth father is an orange orangutan (I sent private investigators to Asia — you won’t believe what they’ve found). But anyway, the derivative of the First Amendment — among other things — is “freedom of speech.”

This term is somehow extremely divisive, pitting the University of California, Berkeley against conservative speakers like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos, and President Donald Trump against the NFL. Therefore, in a completely brazen attempt to solve the issue, I will define freedom of speech: the right to say (or demonstrate) any opinion — that does not directly cause immediate harm — in a public forum.

If Trump got his way, it would be totally within the First Amendment for NFL owners to fire players who protested the national anthem. The NFL is a private organization and it has a right to restrict the speech of its employees during its own time. Before nasty liberal comments roll in — I am certainly not arguing against the NFL players who protest. These players — on their own time — can and should advocate whatever political position they hold without retribution. These aren’t gladiators performing in a colosseum — let’s not treat like them like it.

Campus restrictions on free speech are legal, but that does not make them ethical or helpful. If someone wants to advocate against Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, preventing them from speaking by categorizing them as white supremacists only furthers the divide. Let Ann Coulter speak to the Berkeley College Republicans — all three of them — because giving her a “platform” isn’t mainstreaming her opinion, but denying her the right certainly gives her a wide creek of right-wing support.

As Michael Bloomberg said,“College students and administrators have been displaying a shocking disregard for First Amendment rights. Recent incidents involving violent protesters and overzealous administrators have made headlines, but they are not isolated cases. An unwillingness to hear opposing views is getting to be a defining feature of campus culture.”

According to a poll conducted by Brookings, 44 percent of college students say the First Amendment does not protect against hate speech. I’m sorry to say it, but “hate speech” is not a crime. Believing in and arguing for white supremacy is not illegal. Shouting down speakers at public universities is a direct violation of freedom of speech; at private universities it is merely against the spirit of it. And yet according to the poll, 51 percent of college students support shouting down a speaker who holds opposing views. Hate speech is morally reprehensible, but still legally protected.

On that note, the internet chaos also exploded recently surrounding the punching of a neo-Nazi in Seattle — coming to theaters near you! There was also a neo-Nazi seen riding a bus with an armband swastika. I’m of the opinion that you don’t punch people because of what they believe in, no matter how awful it might be; I’d rather just laugh at them — I mean how does a member of a supposedly “superior” race have to ride a bus in Seattle?

I’m also of the unpopular opinion that a person shouldn’t be fired for holding Nazi beliefs — as horrific as that sounds. That’s what freedom of speech is about. But, I would be the first person to demand his firing should he bring any of those beliefs into the workplace.

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