Not free to do as you please

Alexander Suarez/Contributing Writer

Within the University’s Student Code of Conduct, there is a vital statement that protects much of what happens on campus. It protects acts such as distributing fliers and inviting public speakers to discussing and passing out literature in a manner that does “not disrupt the essential function of the University.”

This code states: “Students are guaranteed freedom of expression.” This should come as no shock to American students since the United States itself holds a similar protection within the Constitution.

In the first Amendment, it states: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech”. What does this mean and why does it matter?

A common and typical response would be that this amendment protects your ability to say or share whatever you want. However, there is a problem with this understanding of the First Amendment protection and it is a large one.

For example, would you condone student A to threaten student B with murder as a protection of his “freedom of speech”? The problem in this understanding lies not in the misreading of the Amendment but the misunderstanding of freedom.

To get a clue as to what freedom might have meant to the founders we turn to a portion from the “Appeal to the Inhabitants of Quebec” in 1774 by the First Continental Congress:

“The last right we shall mention regards the freedom of the press. The importance of this consists, besides the advancement of truth, science, morality, and arts in general, in its diffusion of liberal sentiments on the administration of Government, its ready communication of thoughts between subjects, and its consequential promotion of union among them, whereby oppressive officers are shamed or intimidated into more honorable and just modes of conducting affairs.”

Though this commentary dealt with “the freedom of the press,” it shares some insight as to how we should understand this freedom of which they sought to protect.

First, it should be quite noticeable that this appeal commends the use of the press for means we would consider to be noble or honorable. Second, we should notice that in the appeal there is no mention of protecting the press when used for means to tell lies and ignoble purposes. Rather “the freedom of the press” is to be used for the “advancement of truth” and “morality” along with many other reasons assumed to be good and right.

What does this tell us about freedom? Is freedom the ability to do whatever you want to do? No. Rather it is having the ability to do what is good and right. Freedom serves as a means to virtue.

What then is our freedom of expression? Possessing the ability to express one self in what is good or right. Why is all this important? Because we should be asking, “What is good?” and “What is right?” a lot more often.

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