This letter reflects the opinions of biomedical engineering sophomore Sydney Gray. Letters to the editor do not reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.
On Dec. 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights was adopted by a newly formed United States of America. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
It seems that many people in this country have lost sight of what this amendment stands for and what the Constitution should mean to all Americans, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender.
Freedom of speech is the right to express any opinions without restraint. This principle supports the right that an individual has to express their opinions without fear of censorship, or, most importantly, retaliation. Colleges around this country are faced with a tough decision: to uphold the First Amendment or to surrender to the mainstream culture of questioning what truly is free speech.
University of California, Berkeley seems to be at the epicenter of this discussion. The Free Speech Movement of 1964 formed when students at Berkeley demanded their right to free speech and academic freedom after the university tried to ban on-campus political activities. In February 2017, Milo Yiannopoulos was invited to Berkeley but was unable to speak because of violence and actions created an unsafe environment. An individual should have the right to speak without fear of retaliation, yet it seems as if those in Berkeley have neglected that.
Recently, Cal Poly has become the focus of nationwide attention with the events of the past few weeks. It has led many of us to question what free speech is and if we should truly be defending it, especially if we disagree wholeheartedly with it. Although I, in no way, condone the ignorant actions of Kyler Watkins, he had the freedom of speech and expression to do so. Cal Poly President JeffreyArmstrong received heat because of his response to the incident. However, I believe that Armstrong responded in a more-than-appropriate way.
In an email sent to students he wrote, “there are times when values conflict — when we are torn between a duty to oppose hate and a duty to protect free speech. As individuals, each of us can choose which value to put first, but as a state university, the law makes that choice for us.”
Armstrong set aside his personal beliefs and feelings to look at the facts and the law that was set before us by our Founding Fathers. My father always told me while I was growing up that if you want the ability to speak freely, then you must be willing to defend the rights of others to speak freely, even if their very beliefs or words contradict yours.
In recent years, the Cal Poly College Republicans have challenged the norms and brought controversial speakers to campus. Although Armstrong did not necessarily agree with the speakers or the thoughts that the speakers shared, he nevertheless supported the rights of the the club to bring these speakers to campus.
I will always support any school administrator who defends the First Amendment, especially when they handle it with such poise. I would like to thank Armstrong for always supporting the freedom of speech on our college campus, especially when others around the nation do not.
*Letter has been edited for clarity.