The Voice: Free Speech Rights Crucial to Campus

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The Ferguson Memorial Chapel echoed shouts last week as traveling preacher Ross Jackson, or Brother Ross, riled up students with carefully selected words designed to stir up controversy.

Brother Ross, calling women whores and slinging homophobia around without batting an eye, incited a flood of calls to UCAPD complaining about his comments, and some students asked for police to remove him.

While Brother Ross’ words offend many people, students need to recognize that asking for the preacher’s removal sends a negative message about the mentality of UCA students and their acceptance of First Amendment rights.

There have been several traveling preachers to take the first-come, first-served designated free-speech zone over the years, and they consistently deal in reaction-provoking phrases. Brother Ross’ appearance was a little different. UCAPD received so many harassment complaints that it felt police presence was necessary at the chapel during Ross’ demonstrations.

It is disheartening that so many students don’t respect his right to use the free-speech zone. This week, UCA will experience yet another traveling preacher known to aggravate student opinion: a man known as Brother Jed. Before students call for UCAPD to remove Brother Jed, they should remember that he has every right to shout whatever statements he wishes, no matter how ignorant, misogynistic or homophobic.

The same First Amendment rights that allow students to shout back at preachers also grant those preachers the freedom to yell what they want from that small chapel stage. Simply being offended by someone’s idea does not mean the speaker is guilty of harassment.

Unless someone is personally calling you out in a threatening or sexually inappropriate manner, he has done nothing wrong. No matter how right students may feel their opinions are, it never justifies impending another’s right to free speech. When people lose mutual respect for rights crucial to our country’s integrity, they risk creating a new form of inequality and promoting unilateral thought as superior to free thought.

This not only condemns free speech, but also removes the concept of equal rights for all. If one person is not allowed to speak his mind at UCA within the confines of the campus policy and his First Amendment rights, it only makes the university appear disrespectful and close-minded.

Attempting to prevent any individual from standing up for his beliefs only reflects negatively on UCA students. Let UCA’s campus be a place welcoming to all opinions, religious beliefs and ideals. Let it reflect its students as strong-willed, accepting and honorable.

If someone is so offended that he cannot stand to watch Brother Ross or Brother Jed spout questionable ethics, then he should take that opportunity to spread his cause on his own time, and not hinder someone else’s right to do the same.

Allowing even one opinion or way of life to be stifled shows a blatant disregard for the freedoms each citizen has the right to enjoy.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 18, 2015 print edition of The Echo. 

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