“Free speech is messy”

by Anushka Boyd, Communications ‘12

I remember reading about the Amendments in highs school, but never really had a deep appreciation for them.  In the Constitution, the First Amendment states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment is probably one of the most important amendments because we use speech every day to communicate.

I’m the editor of the “Campus Life” section of our school newspaper, which is called The Crimson. We are lucky enough to have a faculty advisor, Dr. Petersen who is passionate about journalism and free speech. Dr. Petersen not only teaches a journalism course on campus but gives us guidance, support and inspiration with The Crimson.

 The Crimson staff relies heavily on the protection of the First Amendment every time a writer submits a story to be published in the newspaper. Of course, The Crimson contributors have a different view of the First Amendment, but we wanted the rest of the campus to have a better understanding of it and how it applies to them, as well.

We always talk about our rights as writers in our meetings and sometimes our rights get complicated. Because we are primarily students, we run into issues like how far are we allowed to go in what we say as writers.

To help exercise freedom of speech, we decided we would plan a free speech day on Tuesday, February 28. Luckily, I didn’t have class or work so I went to the event to show my support. The event featured guest speakers and a free speech wall.

The free speech panel featured Emmy Award winner and WESH2 space reporter, Dan Billow; Florida TODAY‘s lead watchdog, Matt Reed; media lawyer Jack Kirschenbaum; and adjunct constitutional law instructor and Supreme Court-certified attorney Michael Kahn.

It was great to see professionals in the workforce discuss the important role the First Amendment plays in their careers. They talked about different cases where it was hard to tell which party was in the right or wrong. I learned a little bit more about freedom of speech and had a new found respect and appreciation for it.

After the panel, we set up two sheets of plywood and encouraged students, faculty and staff members to write whatever they wanted on the wall, even if it might disagree with others. I was so moved by the campus community being able to express themselves freely by writing whatever they wanted on the walls. Thanks, First Amendment!

I expected students to write on the walls (not just for the delicious free cookies we offered), but it surprised me to see staff and faculty members come up and write things that were important to them. I was glad that we could come together to exercise our freedom of speech and see a little personality in each quote.

There were some quotes that stirred up a little controversy, such as someone writing “to not get involved with Greek Life” and then someone else came along and crossed it out and said “or do” with a smiley face. These statements were made because two people felt strongly about the same issue, but expressed their opposite views in a respectful and appropriate manner.

Now, what’s a free speech wall without a little bit of profanity, romance, intellect and song lyrics? It might have offended some people or give them a sense of connection with others. But to me, that was the beauty of it all. As Dr. Petersen says, “Free speech is messy!” People say things all the time that others may or may not agree with. The fact that we were able to hold an event that has potential for messy and chaotic conflict made me appreciate our first amendment rights. The event went over smoothly and encouraged us to express ourselves because it’s our right after all.

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