January Riseponds: Justifiability of Extreme Freedom Of Speech

Mario Savio, leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, speaks to a crowd of students at the college on December 7th, 1964. The movement began after several students were arrested for distributing literature and hosting information tables on the major political issues of the time. Photo courtesy of NPR.

Riseponds is a monthly series wherein a group of Risen members are picked, not based on viewpoints, but solely through a "first come first serve" basis to speak on a topic that they're passionate or apathetic about. The randomness serves so readers can gain different viewpoints from different individuals with contrasting experiences. This month’s topic is the justifiability of freedom of speech stretched to its’ limits, including but not limited to: slandering influential/prominent individuals, creating and spreading fake news and/or information, and sparking “ruckus” or uproar with certain types of sensitive information (government-related, Wikileaks, and the like)


While this may not be the most popular opinion, I believe freedom of speech at its extremes can be useful in certain situations. Exposing corruption at the highest levels of a government for example, while potentially dangerous to the stability of that government, can positively affect those who suffer by that corruption and even create a better government for the future. I will acknowledge that the intent of causing anarchy and/or violence is certainly not a righteous goal to strive for with such a power in hand, but when used wisely or justly, this freedom can play a powerful role in shifting politics, government and citizen decisions, and making a real impact in a given city, region, nation, etc.


Freedom of speech is a natural born right, but I suppose it can often be manipulated into a weapon if the right is abused. As blessed as I feel to have the ability to say what I want, when I please, I realize that many others use their speech to spread false information in the media, insult and degrade others, and share unpopular or hateful opinions. For all the negative ways that freedom of speech can be abused, I simply have to look at examples of life without it to look past such trivial downsides. In many foreign countries freedom of speech is frowned upon, and even punishable. Here in America we each reserve the right to speak how we feel. Dissenting opinions can often spark conversation and that is much better than enforced silence.


There’s no doubt that freedom of speech is a controversial issue and is often overcomplicated. Many use the first amendment to justify their harm doing, but many utilize their right in hope of helping others and to speak against injustices. Freedom of speech in a simpler sense boils down to not being allowed to imprison someone for exercising their right to speak what is on their mind (excluding instances of direct discrimination). The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear freedom of speech is bigots using this right in counterproductive ways, for example: using slurs, derogatory, and/or bullying others in one way or another. But, it doesn’t have to be like that. I often have to step back and remind myself all the positives this amendment brings with it. Rights that enable our liberties can often be abused, but when it is used to make an impression on societal, political, or economic corruption, it can truly be a beautiful thing.


First and foremost, I see freedom of speech as a right, and should be open to everyone and anyone today. In the simplest forms, freedom of speech is wonderful, and can be utilized to tear away at injustices and educate the public on issues otherwise purposely covered up or ignored. Freedom of speech is defined by Google as “the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint” yet the word seems to be blurred today in the minds of minds of others. Freedom of speech allows others to express themselves, but another’s form of expression shouldn’t be respected if it discriminates and/or contributes to another’s oppression. Spewing homophobic, racist, sexist, transphobic or xenophobic spiels or words isn’t acceptable. nor is it respectful and shouldn't be treated as so. Using freedom of speech is never a pass, and never will be.


Freedom of speech has always been such a grey topic for me. I totally agree with being able to voice your thoughts, but hate speech is a tricky topic. The biggest issue for me is that people have always jumped to defend the aggressor, but almost never the victim. I think that everyone should have the right to voice what they want, but that also means that someone else can voice their opinion in return without fear of retribution. Free speech should never be someone's defense for being a terrible person, but I suppose that for total free speech to be conceivable, hate speech is something that is unavoidable (even though it should be common sense to not be a terrible person).