Is freedom of speech ‘free’ at Oswego East?

by Ethan Mikolay, STAFF WRITER

27 April 2018


Speech at East

According to a survey conducted in 2017 by the Knight Foundation, college students considered their First Amendment rights to be less secure than in 2016.

The survey found that about 62% of college students viewed the five freedoms outlined under the First Amendment as being very secure or secure, which is a drop from 2016’s results.

“…students now perceive the five freedoms as significantly less secure. This includes a 21-percentage-point decline in perceptions that freedom of the press is secure and nine-point declines for free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom to petition the government.”

The First Amendment remains a controversial topic on college campuses a year later and, at Oswego East, the discussion is much the same.

“Especially in the education system, there are sensitive topics that we’re not necessarily allowed to talk about anymore because we don’t want to offend anyone,” junior and former co-president of the Young Democrats Katie Olivas said. “I think that [the education system] is kind of limiting our growth in a way because we’re not understanding other points of view or really being able to talk about some controversial issues.”

At East, freedom of speech is a right that students can exercise, though there are specific limitations outlined in the student handbook regarding which types of speech are not allowed on campus.

According to the student planner given to students, freedom of speech is a protected right unless said speech “materially or substantially [disrupts] or [interferes] with the educational [process.]”

“I’m pretty open about my political beliefs and I’m not scared to go up against a teacher and have a healthy conversation,” junior Gabrielle McElyea said. “But I have a couple friends who have differing political beliefs than a lot of their teachers and they’re almost intimidated and don’t want to talk about it.”

At East, the First Amendment and its limitations are taught to students in history courses, according to the chair of the Social Studies department James Vera.

“As a democracy school, we emphasize discussion of controversial topics… as a culture at East, I’ve not really had an experience with people feeling that their speech was limited in the classroom,” Vera said.

He added that it’s important for his students to understand that free speech is not unlimited in the classroom, but all teachers should support the First Amendment in the classroom regardless.


“…I’m not scared to go up against a teacher and have a healthy conversation.”

— junior Gabrielle McElyea


Hate Speech and Social Media

According to the same survey, nearly two-thirds of the college students supported restrictions on “hate speech,” believing it to be a form of speech not protected under the Constitution. A majority of the students surveyed also believed that social media platforms should have a responsibility to limit that type of speech.

“I think any speech that’s designated to just invoke hate or invoke something negative towards a specific person isn’t good speech, but it is also protected speech,” U.S. History teacher Steven Ideran said.

Hate speech, defined by Merriam Webster, is “speech expressing hatred of a particular group of people.” In the First Amendment, there is no reference to such speech, which fuels the debate over whether or not it’s truly protected.

I don’t think hate speech is protected under the First Amendment because it’s a breach of peace and could lead to harm,” junior and former board member of the Young Democrats Cassidy Siebel said.

When it comes to the First Amendment, some would find that the line is frequently drawn when it regards hate speech on the internet.

“I don’t think social media companies should interfere with discussions on their platforms,” freshman Brendan Muncy said.

Siebel added that social media sites should remain neutral to prevent influencing people’s’ opinions.

The rise of the hate speech debate coincides with the rise of social media platforms’ popularity, which sparks controversy over the roles these companies should have in monitoring this type of speech.

“To a certain degree, [social media platforms] should be allowed to monitor hate speech because it is their site,” McElyea said. “I just think that there needs to be a lot of regulations around so that they aren’t suppressing just offensive speech.”

According to an article published last December by the BBC, Twitter updated its policies and tools in order to more effectively seek out and remove hateful and abusive speech.

“Technically, hate speech is protected under the First Amendment,” Olivas said. “However, there are consequences for it. It’s important to realize that free speech doesn’t necessarily guarantee freedom from consequences.”


Ethan Mikolay is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the HOWL

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