Right to free speech should not be restricted
Story by Will Melton
September 16, 2009
Montana Kaimin

I have followed the story of the preacher on campus with humored detachment.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching students who theoretically wanted this evangelist to shut up challenge him constantly, thus feeding him fodder for his rhetoric. This man’s only power comes when he is argued with. And now some unnamed student, so offended by this harmless man, has had him banished to the wildly Orwellian “Free Speech Zone.”

I’m sure the student thought he was too loud, and I suppose if the man could be heard from classrooms there was reason to complain, but there’s an easier and less rash alternative to calling campus security on the preacher: walk away and ignore him.

I am by no means a religious man. Despite going to church occasionally when I was a child, I have known since at least second grade that I didn’t believe in God or gods or pretty much anything supernatural in the least. That said, I have never had a problem with others expressing their religious views to me, around me, whatever. I feel comfortable enough in my belief that Hell doesn’t exist that I have no problem with somebody telling me that’s where I’m going to end up.

Restricting anybody’s free speech should remain the last option used.

And the preacher situation was not the first free speech issue to hit our fair campus this semester, or even last week.

I, for one, think the Confederate flag is a disgusting symbol. Even if it represents your culture and history, it should represent a point of that culture and history to be ashamed of, not to be celebrated.

However, as a journalist and as an American, I believe that Kyle Johnson, a University of Montana student who was asked to take down a Confederate flag that he had hung in the window of his interim dorm room, should have every right to display it. Johnson was asked to remove the flag from an outdoor balcony, a reasonable request, since no signs or banners of any sort are allowed outside. When Johnson eventually moved the flag to the inside of his window, the issue should have been dropped.

I would be writing in support of somebody flying a Nazi flag, a Soviet flag, or any other flag that some people, including myself, find offensive. Essentially, that flag would tell me that the person who lives there must be an insufferable prick who I want nothing to do with, which would be much easier for me than having to meet the person to learn that.

UM’s apparent consideration of banning any signs or posters that are visible from outside of dorms should be far more offensive to students than any of the signs, flags, banners, posters or neon lights that people might use to announce their beliefs.

Especially on a college campus, where future businesspeople and leaders are taught and trained, speech that doesn’t explicitly call for violence or isn’t extraordinarily lewd should be allowed unfettered.

Our campus is paid for by tax dollars and should be a place with as much public access and free flow of ideas — even ideas we disagree with — as possible.

For UM to have forced a mildly annoying (or, in my opinion, humorous) preacher into a set-aside area and to no longer allow students in dorms to express themselves to the world is an uncalled-for affront to our rights as students and as citizens.

On The Web:   www.montanakaimin.com/index.php/opinion/opinion_article/right_to_free_speech_should_not_be_restricted/3930