Questioning a student’s free speech

University students and faculty examine the effect of outside forces on a person’s choice to exercise their right to free speech.

While free speech is a right ensured to all U.S. citizens, outside factors often hinder a personâÄôs feelings on whether they feel comfortable exercising that right. This is often the case when a person has been confronted or is faced with a group expressing different views than their own âÄî whether political, religious or otherwise âÄî creating the common tendency to stay quiet, suppressing their own beliefs for fear of persecution. These occurrences prevent the creation of a free flow of ideas and debate between individuals. âÄúI donâÄôt know if a free forum could exist,âÄù Michelle Brauer, an advertising sophomore and intern at the Hillel Jewish Student Center , said. âÄúThe campus is so large and there are so many different political and religious views, it would be almost impossible to have that, but I would hope we could have that someday.âÄù Brauer said it is easy for students to be open and willing to talk when surrounded by people who feel the same way, adding that outside of that context she feels it is harder to talk. BrauerâÄôs feelings have been shaped by her personal experiences, she said, such as being confronted by an individual outside of Northrop Auditorium who would not leave her alone until she viewed a DVD on his religion. âÄúI know there are a lot of closet Republicans out there who havenâÄôt felt comfortable really fully expressing what their viewpoints are because they feel they might be judged in a negative way,âÄù political science and aerospace engineering junior Juliana Feldhacker said. Feldhacker is the executive director of Campus Republicans ,and said that with the University of Minnesota being a predominately liberal campus, conservative viewpoints are commonly criticized. While these cases are not a legal matter under the First Amendmen t, they do call for a dialogue of understanding between people of different viewpoints. âÄúWhat does it mean to have free speech?âÄù University Campus Crusade for Christ President Ben Cornish said. âÄúDoes it mean what you say has to be approved by everyone? Well, no. It doesnâÄôt mean that.âÄù Cornish said one area where people often clash is on the topic of evolution. He recalled a class in which the teaching assistant told the class that if the students didnâÄôt believe in evolution because of their faith, those students need to âÄúface up to the facts.âÄù âÄúI ended up not taking the class,âÄù Cornish said. âÄúI felt my faith would be looked down upon. âÄúIt certainly doesnâÄôt prevent me from speaking out, but itâÄôs psychological âÄî that you can say what you want, but I am going to view you negatively for believing that kind of thing.âÄù Cornish pointed to an open dialogue as the most effective way to ensure no oneâÄôs free speech is infringed upon. Campus Crusade for Christ , a Christian student group, has collaborated with the Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists student group for debates that have had positive outcomes. âÄúFree speech is certainly free speech as long as both people are given a medium,âÄù CASH co-chair and second-year graduate student Jeffrey Campbell said. âÄúIf one group chooses to take advantage of it more than another group or one group has more people speaking up than another, thatâÄôs no oneâÄôs fault, really, as long as everyone has a medium for expression. Who uses it and how they use it is really their business.âÄù A studentâÄôs decision to hold back when discussions of politics or religion arise not only hinders their use of free speech but can hurt learning. Penny Edgell , a University sociology and religion professor, said some of her classes rely on students ability to talk freely about religion. âÄúWhen I teach a class, there is hesitancy on the part of our students to articulate a strong religious-based view that is critical of religious faith. It is tip-toed around,âÄù Edgell said. âÄúWe work to create an open atmosphere, but it is often well into the semester before people feel free to speak.âÄù Often, smaller religions are most affected by the suppression of free speech. She cited religions that are not understood and groups such as atheists, as it is âÄúunpopular to express nonreligious and atheistic views.âÄù âÄúHow do we, as educators, create an atmosphere where unpopular or smaller religious groups feel comfortable to speak?âÄù Edgell asked. âÄúIt creates a barrier we have to overcome. ItâÄôs not particular to the University. ItâÄôs not just Minnesota; it is broader than that.âÄù Ayah Helmy, a member of the Muslim Student Association and a political science senior, said she feels two factors play into whether a person will chose to exercise their free-speech rights. She pointed to a personâÄôs personality as a key factor in how someone will respond to a situation. A more outgoing person will be less likely to allow negative comments to stop them from talking, while a more reserved person will pull back. The second area is a personâÄôs community. Helmy said she hopes that if a Muslim student in the group had a problem, they would know they have a strong support system through the group that will back them up. In the end, Helmy said a part of creating dialogue at a large university is not allowing people to take away your rights to opinion and speech. âÄúPeople will say their piece, it comes with the territory,âÄù Helmy said. âÄúTake what you will. Hear what you will.âÄù