By Michael Camilleri
Constitution Day recognizes the adoption of the United States Constitution, and honors the 39 delegates at the Constitutional Convention who signed it into order.
In honor and remembrance of the event, the Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies hosted the Who’s Afraid of Free Speech? event in cooperation with the Human Journey Colloquia Series.
Thomas J. Healy, a Professor at the Seton Hall University School of Law, was invited to speak about free speech on college campuses. Healy addressed the growing issue of speakers being shut down and protested on college campuses for holding certain opinions on controversial topics.
“Much of the shutting down is due to the political correctness now advanced by university professors, particularly in the humanities and social sciences,” said event organizer and chair for the department, Dr. Gary Rose. “It stems from professors using their classrooms as forums to instruct students that some topics cannot, and should not be debated.”
Instances of this have occurred on campuses across the country. In April, 170 students blocked access to an event at Claremont McKenna College, where pro-police speaker, Heather MacDonald, was set to give a speech.
In February, violent protests broke out at the University of California Berekely ahead of an event hosting conservative political commentator Milo Yiannopolous.
“It’s a most unfortunate development to say the least, as college classrooms and college campuses are where all points of view should be heard, discussed, and debated,” said Rose.
The main focus of Healy’s speech was the concept of counter-speech, which he defined as push-back from one voicing their opinions. He spoke on the great difference between counter-speech and hate speech.
“Counter speech, if conducted in a civil manner, will help broaden debate and an understanding of contentious political issues,” said Rose. “The key, however, is civility, not the sort of ‘counter speech’ that has taken place at Middlebury College.”
Middlebury College is another example similar to the events at Berkeley and Claremont, where a group of students shut down a speech by Dr. Charles Murray because many did not agree with his conservative views. Rose does not see an easy fix to problems such as these.
“I do not see an immediate solution in light of the current hyper-partisanship we are experiencing. Hate speech will likely be a characteristic of our politics for many years to come. That’s reality. Demoralizing one another is now inherent within our politics. Sad, but true,” he said.
According to Rose, if there is one thing students should take away from the event, it is what a privilege the right to free speech is.
“Free speech is one of the great virtues of our republic and one of the magnificent gifts from our Founding Fathers. Students should cherish this right,” he said.