Yesterday, the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter at Washington State University (WSU) held a peaceful free speech rally. According to Noah White, Vice President for YAL at WSU, the rally was created in response to a sit-in held last Friday in which students asked the university to define hate speech versus free speech in their policies. The goal of the rally was to invite all students to define and debate the definition of both terms.
White argued that hate speech is within free speech so it cannot be separated, however when hate speech turns into violent calls to action, the case changes. David Mclerran, YAL chapter President and organizer of the event, invited both the WSU College Republicans and Young Democrats with the hope of encouraging and facilitating a bipartisan discussion. The College Republicans attended, but the Young Democrats did not.
The Young Democrats released a statement on their Facebook page, however.
“The Young Democrats of Washington State University proudly support free speech, but refuse to endorse the corrupted usage of free speech this campus has witnessed by many of this protest’s demonstrators in its name,” the organization stated.
Those who did attend the event were given the opportunity to express themselves with an “open mic” policy, signage, and any other form of self-expression.
At the rally, sophomore Matt Molitor dressed in a cow suit with tape over his mouth. He only removed the tape to speak about the importance of animal rights. College Republicans President Amir Rezamand held a sign that read, “What is hate speech?” Former College Republicans chapter President, James Allsup, said that hate speech is a subjective term that isn’t real. He added limiting free speech impedes upon intellectual freedoms.
Phil Weiler, Vice President of WSU Marketing and Communications, also attended the event and expressed the difficulty in drawing a clear definition between hate speech and calls to violence. According to Weiler, hate speech is a new term that can be misconceived. Constitutionally, he said, the university has to allow offensive, inflammatory speech, but cannot advocate for violence.
Even so, the administration is actively working to make policies about freedom of speech and calls to violence clearer and separate, while still keeping freedom of speech laws intact.
“We’re not trying to shut down conversation, but create more conversation,” Weiler said.
The goal is to promote open and free discourse on topics that can be otherwise controversial. After all, open discourse is only feasible when we uphold the First Amendment.
It is no surprise that a YAL chapter lead the rally at WSU. The national organization of YAL is dedicated to restoring First Amendment rights for students on college campuses nationwide, through their National Fight for Free Speech Campaign. Since the campaign began just a year ago, YAL has challenged and changed 28 restrictive free speech policies, thus restoring First Amendment rights to 590,202 students.
Despite these victories, the fight for free speech on America’s public universities is only beginning. Of the 440 schools that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education rated in 2016, 217 have unconstitutional speech codes. In the state of Washington alone, six schools have policies that restrict First Amendment rights. Colleges and universities used to serve as the beacon of intellectual thought and open debate and it is YAL’s goal to restore open, honest, and peaceful discussion on college campuses nationwide.