Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Free speech goes both ways

Anuja Manjrekar

It’s undeniable that we love the principles of free and unreduced speech when they benefit our own interests, but we are still critical of them when they’re used in a manner we disagree with. The purpose of such a fundamental right is that it remains neutral and unbiased, and whether or not we agree with it, free speech goes both ways.

Despite what either side of the political spectrum might argue, certain limitations to this fundamental right are necessary to maintain a functional society. 

Gregory Salmieri, director of the Salem Center’s Program for Objectivity in Thought, Action, and Enterprise, stated that free speech is and should be limited when it subsequently violates other rights.

“If you come and vandalize my yard with your graffiti, that would be illegal,” Salmieri said. “It’s not illegal because of what you say, it’s illegal because you said it on my fence.”

Although this is the case in certain situations, there have been times when students have tried to impose limitations on free speech in an extreme manner when they disagree with others. 

In the last decade, conservatives have been relentlessly pursuing a more equitable and free exchange of ideas at universities nationwide, including at the University, particularly in a 2018 lawsuit where the organization Speech First claimed that the University’s policies on harassment were too vague and hindered free discourse.  

This is at least partially true. The largely liberal student body has a record of reprimanding and undermining the ability of conservative speakers and students to exercise their constitutional rights, notably in 2016 after the Young Conservatives of Texas’ anti-affirmative action bake sale and in 2018 during their Kavanaugh rally.

 On the other hand, in late 2023, leaders of three prominent universities came under fire, mostly from the ideological right for refusing to condemn their students for criticizing the Israeli government and chanting slogans like, “from the river to the sea” and “Intifada,” citing that they are chants for genocide. Governor Greg Abbott also warned Texas universities about taking similar stances. But the chants most nearly translate to “displacement” and “uprising.” 

These controversial slogans, in essence, are not new to First Amendment discourse. A particular group finding the defense of a certain instance of speech egregious is not a reason to prohibit it, especially considering their ideological adversaries often consider some of their own expressions to be heinous or hateful.

The Supreme Court has been clear that while a contribution to discourse might be negligible, the law does not forbid controversial speech unless the advocacy of such is reasonably intended to incite or produce imminent lawless action or is likely to do so as a result. In the absence of such requisites, it would be nothing more than speech and would not infringe on any of the other liberties that a person is guaranteed by law.

Steven Collis, director of the Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center, outlined that a standard surrounding “hate speech” or “harassment” to regulate free speech would be heavily relative. 

“We are at a point in society where almost everybody is calling everything harassment, or ridicule, or an insult of some kind or another,” Collis said. “And they’re using that to try and silence any speaker with which they disagree and we see that across the ideological spectrum.”

This is true on a much larger scale than our campus brawls. First Amendment advocates often come across as paradoxical, and their attempts to overly restrict or extend the right can be destructive to our liberties. UT students have to realize the only way to defeat speech we disagree with is with more speech. And while we do have innate freedoms, certain limitations are essential — your freedom shouldn’t impose on mine.

Rodriguez is an economics and philosophy junior from Tyler, Texas.


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