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Opinion: When is freedom not free?


One surefire way to stir the student pot is to start a debate about freedom of speech or freedom of religion.

Let’s begin with some basic definitions. The First Amendment does not guarantee freedom of speech. What it guarantees is that Congress and now, by general consent, any government or government-funded authority, including universities, will not legislate to restrict the right to express oneself in whatever manner one chooses. “Legislate” also now widely means any form of rule, regulation or law-making.

While you’re thinking about that, let’s have a look at freedom of religion on the federal level. State constitutions and laws could take up a whole new article. Again, the First Amendment is very specific. It states that Congress (same caveats as above) shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

One would think this would make the discussion about freedom of speech and religion on campus pretty straightforward. Ha! I doubt anyone came to university to be straightforward.

Essentially, what this boils down to is a two-step consideration.

Step one means that any time Clemson University authorities become embroiled in attempting to legislate what is freedom of speech or not, what is freedom of religion or not or where and how these can take place, they have transgressed the U.S. Constitution.

Step two comes down to the fact that, according to the U.S. Constitution, it is up to the students of Clemson (and possibly the faculty) to determine what constitutes constitutional expression of freedom of speech and religion.

Subject to one point, which almost all debaters on this subject overlook, Clemson University is responsible for the safety of its students and their abilities to undertake their primary purposes for attending Clemson– namely, to study.

Clemson remains responsible, therefore, for the regulation of orderliness within the entirety of its campus. In other words, students and faculty may debate, argue, protest, counter-protest, scream, yell, cry, pass motions and pass counter-motions until they all are blue in the face, provided they do not break laws and regulations that deal with safety, privacy, orderliness and every student’s right to learn as well as faculty’s right to teach.

Now, within those constraints, there are a couple of further points worth making. Since students and faculty, according to this article, are the ones self-regulating their own freedoms, it is incumbent on all to remember that what one may consider an essential freedom, another may view as an unconscionable transgression.

That said, have we taken the whole snowflake concept a bit too far? We all had to gain certain grades to enter Clemson. We are, therefore, by definition, sufficiently intelligent to be able to counter a point of view, however ridiculous or offensive it may be. Isn’t it more intellectual to put forward a different point of view, rather than to take away someone’s freedom to express their possibly obnoxious opinion?

We have all made our way from the safety of home and hometown to an arena of many thousands. We negotiate all manner of social and education pressures every single day. Are we not all sufficiently equipped to be able to shrug off a point of view we find unsettling, or must we simply move away from its expression entirely?

We are encouraged from the first moment of the first lecture in our first class to think creatively and to find a way to argue an approach. This is not incidental to university life and education; it is a fundamental building block to our eventual degrees. Surely, freedom of any sort of expression, be it speech or religion, is commensurate with the freedom to argue? Indeed, is it not usually the case that those who want to stop someone else from talking are doing so only because they don’t have a better argument? 

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