As an aspiring journalist, free speech is one of the most important pieces of our Constitution to me. It defines my entire future career, and protects the right to democracy in this country. There is, however, the very important debate about where the line should be drawn when free speech begins to threaten the safety of the public.
Many people remember the events that took place in Charlottesville this summer as terrifying and tragic. There was loss of life and the horrible reminder that white supremacy is alive and thriving in America. One of the main perpetrators of this “Unite the Right” rally was Richard Spencer. Spencer is the co-editor of AltRight.com, and travels around the country to organize these “free speech rallies” that promote racism and white supremacy.
On Thursday, Spencer spoke at the University of Florida. My initial reaction was anger — how could a university let someone with such twisted ideals and outlooks on life influence the future minds of America? Upon further research though, I learned that University of Florida has to let him speak on the grounds of the First Amendment.
Since the university is a public school, they have no choice but to let Spencer speak on their campus, but it is at a great cost. The security was reported to cost the school over $500,000, since the National Guard had to be called in. The governor had declared a state of emergency days in advance, and many minority groups at the school left campus out of fear for their safety. The measures required to allow hate speech and white supremacy are extensive.
Why is the University of Florida forced to let him speak? Besides the argument of free speech, it is because they do not have a rule stating that speakers have to be invited by students or student groups like other public universities do. This is the loophole Spencer is taking advantage of in order to spew his hatred.
The tolerance of Nazis and white supremacy can go on no longer — the students at University of Florida are at serious risk here. Schools that do not have these rules in place to prevent hateful speakers from forcing their way on campus must implement them as soon as possible. Free speech is important, but so is protecting our students.
With our current political climate and our president who does not make condemning white supremacy a priority, people like Richard Spencer feel safer and stronger. Their viewpoints are more proudly professed and they have no shame in their racism. This was made quite clear at Charlottesville. Even worse, they do not stop at free speech. A peaceful protester was murdered at Spencer’s rally in Charlottesville — he brings with him a crowd of hateful, violent people.
There were large protests on the day of his arrival — all kept peaceful — and at one point, it was estimated almost 1,000 people were out demonstrating. His speech was constantly interrupted with boos and shouts in protest of his viewpoints. I hope that made Richard Spencer realize how much resistance and protest he and his “alt-right” followers are going on to defy him.
Even so, I am still fearful about what will happen to those who take a stand against hate. This event was kept peaceful, but when it comes to the kind of people who support Spencer, that is never guaranteed. American values are in danger, along with the diverse group of people who represent this country.
Americans need to shut down people like Spencer. His values cannot become synonymous with our nation, and he must know that we are intolerant of his “white America.” The University of Florida certainly met him with the anger and resistance he deserves. Let him speak, because our Constitution allows it, but do not let him silence the rest of us.