Saturday, February 28, 2015

Christopher Hitchens and Free Speech

            On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States of America decided the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee. On January 7, 2015, two Islamic terrorists attacked the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and killed 11 people. On February 26, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission voted in favor of net neutrality. What do these events have in common? At the heart of these events is the concept of free speech. The idea of free speech is ever-present in our class and, indeed, our society, yet every day we face challenges to our freedom of speech.
            One of the greatest defenders of free speech in recent times was the late polemicist and contrarian, Christopher Hitchens. On January 7, 2007, at the University of Toronto he debated that the freedom of speech does indeed include the freedom to hate. In April 2011, the talented author wrote an article defending free speech for Reader’s Digest. (I have provided links to both the article and his speech below, and both are very eloquent.) In essence, he argues that the right to speak freely is also the right to hear different views discussed. So when one attempts to silence the speech of another, he or she is essentially restricting the right of everyone else to hear. Of course, free expression is crucial to democracy and our society’s well-being. Our founding fathers knew this and the freedom of speech is guaranteed in the foremost amendment to our Constitution, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…” Look at the most tyrannical regimes in history and in the world and you will find that they all share one thing in common; they limit expression.
            So when we face calls for limiting speech, remember that it is also your right to listen that is under attack. And although people may take advantage of this freedom and may be extremely ill-mannered, there is much more at stake than offending someone when you limit the freedom of speech. I believe we are perfectly capable of handling offensive material, but I don’t know anyone capable of deciding what we can see or hear or read or watch. --Nick Gilbert

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