Opinions: Campus preachers have rights too

Matthew Caballero, Opinions Reporter

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As the byproduct of a Cuban family, I am keenly aware of the importance of a liberal approach to free speech.  One of the great traditions of the liberal movement in America is a voracious defense of unpopular speech, a tradition that is under attack on college campuses.  

During my time here at UNF, I have developed a love-hate relationship with the campus preachers.  While I disagree with almost all of the religious, social and political views of the campus preachers, I fully support their constitutional right to speak on campus. Sure, their words are offensive to those who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, myself included.  

Protestors on the green at UNF

Photo by Brett Nweeia

But does offensive language warrant an attack on the First Amendment?   The Supreme Court has come to the conclusion that the answer to that question is no, and I agree.  

States like Texas used to prohibit this kind of expression, until a man by the name of Gregory Lee Johnson was jailed and fined for burning an American flag in front of the Dallas City Hall.  The Supreme Court ruled his actions to be protected in the landmark case Texas v. Johnson (1989)

I view those who burn the American flag as unappreciative people who show no respect for the sacrifices individuals have made fighting to protect the rights granted to them by the Constitution. Although the act of burning an American flag is extremely offensive to me, I would passionately defend a person’s right to do so.  

The beauty of the First Amendment is that it was put in place to protect speech and other forms of expression that are controversial. Why would we ever need an amendment protecting speech that everyone accepted?  

If you speak on The Green in favor of free pizza or cheaper tuition, you’ll face no problems, but the second the topic ruffles some feathers, opponents want to shut it down.  Freedom of speech is most important when the speech is uncomfortable to hear.  

Unlike traditional liberals, those who align with the modern-day political left have made it their mission to censor so-called “hate speech” and silence those who choose to voice his or her religious beliefs if those views differ or are perceived as offensive. 

 As someone that holds views more Libertarian in nature, I believe that universities should remain completely out of our personal thoughts and beliefs.  In turn, institutions of learning must recognize that opposing views are essential to our democracy and should keep our right to free speech protected.

You don’t have to dig too deep into the news cycle to realize how grateful we should be to live in a country that specifically outlines freedom of speech in our Constitution. Protesters in Hong Kong have been seen holding up American Flags and signs reading “stand up for freedom.”  Now it us that are having to fight for the rights we have taken for granted for so long. 

 This begs the question: why are some people so willing to destroy one of our fundamental rights so that they can live in a “safe space” and be considered “woke”?  The Constitution provides freedom of speech, not freedom from offense.  

Regardless of the answer, I will be there to defend their right to speak when the “woke” become the next target of the “speech police.”  

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