Freedom of speech doesn’t grant immunity from criticism

Jasper Johnson

Freedom of speech has been in the news recently, with many people misusing it to further their agendas. Silencing critics or suppressing opposing views under the auspice of free speech is glaringly ironic and a misconstruction of a human right. 
 
Last week, students chalked messages in front of Coffman Union for Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Supporters of Palestine apparently challenged these chalkings with messages of their own, such as “Israeli settlements are responsible 4 the loss of over 14,000 Palestinian homes!!!” and “Israeli apartheid … 2 sets of laws for 2 peoples.” 
 
While the contrarian chalkings arguably violated University of Minnesota policy of not interfering with “existing messages,” the mere fact that countering messages were drawn is by no means a violation of free speech as some might claim. Discourse, though it can be uncomfortable and accusatory at times, is not a violation of the freedom to speak. 
 
In fact, freedom of speech is the cornerstone for creating such discourse in the first place. 
 
Ed Miliband, the United Kingdom’s Labour Party leader, does not seem to grasp the concept of free speech either. He recently said he wants to change UK law to specifically outlaw “Islamophobic attacks.” 
 
Though he has been vague in his statements, there is fear that he might impose anti-blasphemy laws specifically accommodated for Islam. 
 
Given that literal attacks on another human being are already illegal, the leading assumption is that by “attacks,” he could mean verbal criticism. Miliband’s critics, including myself, feel his proposition is unnecessary and threatening to freedom of speech. 
 
No government should insulate ideas from criticism. 
 
Finally, Dr. Oz has used claims of freedom of speech to shroud his quackery from criticism after fellow physicians requested that he be removed from the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and stripped of all his titles. He has faced scrutiny after repeatedly spouting scientifically baseless medical advice and miracle cure products on his show. 
 
Dr. Oz disgracefully fired back, saying that his freedom of speech is being “silenced.” This is far from the case. 
 
As a medical doctor, he has an obligation to give safe and empirical medical advice. Nobody is saying that he as a person cannot spout off whatever nonsense he wishes. But to ignore science and medicine while affiliated with Columbia as a doctor, Dr. Oz is an embarrassment, and he should be removed.
 
Freedom of speech should never be used as a guise to silence criticism. 
 
Contrarian or dissenting speech is exactly what the freedom to speak protects. 
 
Freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism, and it does not mean that no one is allowed to rebut the irrational or divisive ideas that people so freely articulate.