By Caitlyn Tierney, a Speak Freely Advocate for Students for Liberty.
When we think about the current fight for free speech on college campuses, we might think of Yale students bickering in courtyards, or of University of California at Berkeley hosting riots to deter vocal conservatives. But free speech is so much more than these petty arguments—free speech is an essential human right, without which society would fail to advance.
Laws protecting free speech aren’t in place to protect popular, wide-held opinions. Too often, we assume that when an opinion is popular, it must be morally right. But it is essential to remember that what’s popular isn’t always right. And the absolute best way to stop a flawed ideology from spreading is to publicly, logically, and passionately tear it apart.
In Nazi Germany, priests and clergy members who spoke out in support of the Jews were thrown into concentration camps alongside them. While the public dissenters were in the minority (because of the threat to their safety) it’s safe to assume that more Germans disagreed with Hitler’s violent reign than the few who spoke up.
Imagine if free speech was protected in Europe in the 1930s. Dissenters could have joined together, instead of remaining quiet to avoid personal danger.
Unfortunately, the policy of governments gagging their citizens didn’t end in the twentieth century. The first law most despots put into place is to ban citizens from speaking out against government. It happens time and time again; North Korea, China, Iran, and Ethiopia are a few of the current worst offenders. In China, 44 journalists are currently imprisoned, 29 of those for “anti-state” offenses.
When individuals cannot speak out against government abuses, society suffers. It takes dissent to reach a compromise, and it takes dissenters to protect minorities. It’s clear that protecting free speech is more than protecting internet trolls—protecting free speech is protecting the individual’s right to have a say in democracy. Restricting speech is a threat to both minority rights and the advancement of society.