Universities Nationwide Must Guarantee Freedom of Speech

A planned lecture by Boston College theology professor M. Shawn Copeland at Madonna University was cancelled on Sept. 18. Copeland and the university reached a mutual decision to cancel the event after it attracted the attention of the website Church Militant.

An article published on the site took issue with her book, Enfleshing Freedom, in which she argues that Jesus stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. The article on the conservative Catholic site called Copeland a “pro-LGBT” speaker, and stated that she “doesn’t like the Church’s language or viewpoint on homosexuality.”

The article specifically called for the lecture to be cancelled, asking the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization that was sponsoring an event the same night, to exert its influence over the university so that “young, impressionable Catholics are not led into sin by anti-Catholic discourse.”

The cancellation of Copeland’s lecture represents an important example of how intolerance for contrary ideas can lead to the suppression of free speech on college campuses.

Opposed to the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in the Catholic faith, Church Militant targeted Copeland’s lecture, “New Vision for the Church: Pope Francis’ Agenda for Social Justice,” because it may have potentially presented ideas in opposition to the organization’s ideals. The site sought to suppress Copeland’s right to speak at the school simply because she maintains a differing perspective on an issue, epitomizing a larger issue in American higher education.

In February, the University of California, Berkeley, cancelled a speech by conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos after violent demonstrations on campus. In April, a scheduled talk by Ann Coulter was called off, with the school citing security threats. Most recently, the four-day “Free Speech Week” at the university, in which Yiannopoulos was scheduled to participate, was cancelled over logistical issues.

Berkeley has a reputation for being one of the most liberal universities in the country, and backlash from students and liberal groups on campus created a large obstacle to these events taking place on its campus.

In these contrasting events, it is apparent that intolerance for opposing ideas is present in both liberal and conservative spheres. Members of both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of attempting to silence those that they disagree with, regardless of either sides’ claim to champion freedom of speech.

The debate over freedom of speech in America has come to a head on college campuses largely because colleges are meant to serve as a space for open thought and intellectual discourse.

Institutions of higher education are supposed to encourage students to think for themselves, and to allow for those with opposing ideas to come into contact with one another through the guarantee of freedom of thought and speech.

Confronting opposing ideals allows students to learn more about their own values, and helps them to better understand and empathize with those that think differently. In today’s starkly divided America, such mutual understanding and capability for communication is essential for bridging the gaps that exist between us.

In the current contentious environment concerning free speech and higher education, it is imperative that universities seek to promote no single perspective. Schools must adhere to freedom of speech and encourage open ideological discussion by allowing for speakers with controversial viewpoints to hold events on their campuses.

It is important that students recognize the value of free speech, and the necessity of contrary ideas in a free and fair society for everyone.

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor

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  • Fukowi

    Could not agree with you more. College is not so much a place where you learn what to think – but how to to think. And that will never happen in an environment which only permits you to listen to prevailing, popular or conforming points of view. The end game is to develop well developed thinkers – not well developed drones.