UNF Spinnaker

Free speech on campus

Cara Jackson

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If you’ve ever happened to walk past the Green, you may have noticed the presence of a campus preacher. They’re often seen holding a bible and belting out their various beliefs for students to hear. However, they aren’t always preaching on things we typically hear from religious figures. Preachers on campus have been seen making comments on the way students are dressed, placing judgment on same-sex couples, and using explicit name-calling as they see fit. This has left many students wondering how we can honor free speech, while also protecting students against what they feel can sometimes be hate speech.

Wednesday morning, the Hicks Honors College hosted a discussion on the issue in hopes to gain student’s perspectives and to come up with possible solutions. The discussion involved campus leaders, teachers, students and even a preacher.

UNF student, Bryan Sette, gave his opinion stating

“Free speech should be protected at almost all costs, but there is a time and place for certain things,” UNF student Bryan Sette said. “I feel like the green is a terrible place to do that and as much as I support free speech, there’s a line and I feel like that line is harassment”.

Many of those present agreed with the fact that statements made by some of the preachers seemed to cross the line but found it hard to distinguish between what qualifies as free speech versus hate speech. One of the reasons why is that there is no legal definition of hate speech. Although someone may perceive a statement as hateful, it is legally still protected under the First Amendment right. Because of this, it was hard for the panel to come to a decision on how they could limit what preachers were allowed to say.

However, the panel was able to come up with other possible ways to counteract the preacher’s beliefs by offering their own messages, like holding or posting positivity signs near where the preachers speak and making better use out of the green so that the space is not solely designated for preachers.

 

Because of the emotional effects the preachers may have on students, they also discussed expanding the counseling center, or looking into providing resources for students, in order to help them deal with the emotional effects of some remarks.

 

Associate Director of the Hicks Honors College, Leslie Kaplan, explained how they are currently working with the Kettering Foundation, a foundation which aims to help democracy work better, in order to address various issues by holding discussions like these and working towards making legal changes.

 

“Engaging as wide a group as possible to define and name the issues, and then come up with some brainstorming ideas,” Kaplan said. “Once you have the documents billed, holding multiple forums and then eventually bringing it to wherever policy makers are.”

By doing this, she and other faculty members hope to make some changes and gain perspective on issues important to students. They hope to hold more discussions in the future pertaining to this issue, as well as other issues on campus.

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Free speech on campus