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Protecting Free Speech at UW-L

Kittle+speaks+at+the+UW-L+Free+Speech+Event.
Kittle speaks at the UW-L Free Speech Event.

Kittle speaks at the UW-L Free Speech Event.

Cara Henney

Cara Henney

Kittle speaks at the UW-L Free Speech Event.

Cara Henney, Student Government Reporter

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With discussions about free speech taking place in work places and on campuses around the country, College Republicans and Americans for Prosperity wanted to bring that discussion to the UW-L campus on Thursday night.

Award winning investigative journalist, Matt Kittle, joined the two organizations to share his thoughts on how students can protect their right to free speech in a politically polarized world.

“We are at a cross roads in this country. And, students across the country are on the front line of this battle,” Kittle stated. One reason events like the one hosted at UW-L are being hosted is because of the free speech battles happening across campuses everywhere.

One free speech battle happened recently on Berkeley’s campus involving conservative spokeswoman Ann Coulter. After violent protests broke out from those who disagreed with Coulter’s stances, the Berkely University cancelled her speaking engagement. The College Republican group hosting the engagement felt the university’s actions to cancel the event violated their First Amendment rights.

These battles are happening frequently on campuses around the country, and even here in Wisconsin. In November, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro visited the UW- Madison campus and faced a series of protestors himself.

From private schools like Marquette to public schools like UW-L, professionals and students are working to figure out how their First Amendment right to free speech is being protected.

Kittle expressed that this is not the fault of one party or another, but something that affects everyone. “We’ve had violators, abusers of the First Amendment in free speech on both sides. It doesn’t matter, this isn’t something that is exclusive to one party.  It’s all in the name of protecting people and protecting people’s feelings, but the problem with that is that we now begin to restrain speech in the pursuit of not offending somebody.”

While the discussion was central to free speech, community members and students debated several topics including the racial and economic divides amongst Americans.

In regards to this debate, Ben Selter, Chair of the UW-L College Republicans, agreed with Kittle’s earlier evaluation hoping the debate would lead to progress on important issues.  “Free speech is such an important topic for everyone for both sides. It’s important that everyone has their free speech protected so that way we can maximize discussion and spur disagreement, which ultimately creates progress in the world.”

In the a proposal from the 2017-2019 budget, Governor Walker included a policy that stresses the importance of academic speech and its freedom. Text from the proposal reads, “The board and each institution and college campus has a responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.” This proposal was taken out of the budget, but is expected to make an appearance in later legislation.

Kittle stressed the important part students play in this debate.  “They are going to save or destroy the First Amendment. I know that sounds stark and serious, but college students in America over the next several years will determine whether we are free to engage in the marketplace of ideas or if we’re going to foreclose those ideas.” He concluded by reminding the audience that what you take away from somebody else, can be taken away from you.

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Protecting Free Speech at UW-L