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Monday, April 6, 2020

OPINION: The importance of freedom of speech

Freedom of speech is a necessary part of what makes our country free. But this type of freedom involves outcomes that can be both good and bad.

If you didn’t already know, Red Square is Western’s free speech zone – anyone is allowed to campaign and voice their feelings and beliefs as long as they do not hurt themselves or others. There are a variety of different behaviors that one can experience: students tabling for their club, comedians doing clever acts and even entire events, such as MEChA’s Lowrider competition.

On Wednesday, May 13, George “Brother Jed” Smock and his supporters made their annual visit to Red Square as part of a group called The Campus Ministry USA. CMUSA’s purpose, according to its website, is “to declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the college and university students of America and the world.” He and his supporters hold signs that say “You Deserve Hell” and they often get into arguments with students who pass by and disagree with what the group has to say.

Brother Jed and his supporters come to disturb the peace at places like Western. They call people out for being gay or having premarital sex and attack them based on their beliefs or actions. They call people whores and sinners. Does this go beyond the right to free speech and become hate speech? Where is this line? Can anyone go into Red Square and say whatever they want with no consequences?

Many times when walking through Red Square, we have been stopped by Mormon missionaries asking whether or not we know about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We often put our headphones in or walk with our heads down because we hope that if we ignore them, they’ll just go away. These missionaries are essentially doing the exact same thing as Brother Jed and his followers, just in a less direct way. Some of them do, however, also believe that premarital sex and being gay is wrong.

So missionaries essentially deliver the same message, but it doesn’t draw the same attention as Brother Jed simply because of the sugar-coated nature of their approach. Other groups, some representing socialism and Greenpeace, aggressively spout their beliefs with seemingly zero consideration for other people’s feelings.

Freedom of speech is incredibly important. It’s part of the foundation that the United States was built upon. As journalists, we believe it’s vital for the population to be able to express and deliver information in ways that may sometimes be considered raw or abrupt – but hate speech is a different story. And specifically as the editorial board, we know the importance of being able to say what you want, when you want.

So how does one go about dealing with these kinds of experiences? Hearing what Brother Jed has to say can be a truly devastating experience. Do you ignore him? Do you stand up to him? Regardless, he’s operating within the boundaries of the law. We don’t support Jed in his holy cleansing, but we do defend his right to freely express himself.  We feel assured that he won’t be making too many friends in our neighborhood.

The editorial board is composed of Anna Jentoft, Dylan Green, Brandon Stone and Stephanie Villiers.

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