I agree with Opinions Editor Endre Joseph that Boston’s showing against the so-called “free-speech rally” on August 19 was great (40,000+ people showed up for black lives, immigrants, women, love, etc; not even 100 showed up for... I still don’t know what, the other side to say the least). However, I do not agree with Joseph’s conclusion that millennials should form a new Constitution that ensures only “open, hate-free speech.” Doing so would be to limit free speech. And limiting free speech? Well... it’s limiting free speech. Which makes it not free.
Attempts to limit free speech in the way Joseph suggests (aka “for a good reason”) have been tried before. Unfortunately, such efforts usually descended into hardened and ugly censorship. Real life examples are not difficult to find in American history. The English Puritans’ zeal to produce a “City on a Hill” frequently putrified the vision of Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:14 (a passage that follows shortly after sentences like “Blessed are the merciful”). Because of many cases of the Puritans persecuting and even killing Quakers, Catholics, and others who did not agree with their views, “Puritans” is now often used synonymously with intolerance.
Lest we ever forgot the Puritans, playwright Arthur Miller used the setting of the Puritans’ Salem Witch Trials to indict McCarthyism in his play “The Crucible” (1953). McCarthyism, now known as the practice of making accusations of treason without really looking at evidence, gets its name from Joseph McCarthy, the U.S. senator who is known to be behind the Red Scare of the 1950s. The Scare had its roots in concerns about safety, loyalty, and patriotism—not terrible things in and of themselves, but in order to ensure these things, only “open, disloyalty-free speech” was allowed.
Other mid-twentieth century works of literature that, like “The Crucible,” highlight the danger of suppressing free speech include “Animal Farm” (1945), “Fahrenheit 451” (1953), and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1962). Ironically, these works were banned and censored throughout the twentieth century.
Admittedly, I hated reading many of these books in high school and I still don’t think some of them are appropriate for high school because of their content (well... “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” anyway). Notwithstanding, I understood then and still believe now in their central message—of the significance of a radical assurance of free speech.
The inherent value of “free speech” in the First Amendment—plainly phrased and unmodified by adjectives—is found in its seeming obviousness contrasted with its vulnerable submission to interpretation. In the history of the United States, the qualifications for free speech have been discussed and concluded through many processes. It is these ongoing and ever-lengthening, deepening, and widening exchanges that water the tree called the United States. These exchanges are broadly ensured by free speech, which is broadly ensured in the First Amendment.
At the end of the day, it is not usually the language of laws that poses a problem, it is the people who interpret them. No matter the language, the danger exists that people will make evil out of it. Humans are tricky creatures. There are no easy ways to hem them in and enforce a certain behavior. Many men and women of the so-called “hostile, older generations” (as Joseph calls them) know this better than us younger generations do.
P.S. Stereotyping older people is discriminatory—it’s called ageism. Please don’t do it.