The Pro-Life Society was accepted by the Guild. Upon its acceptance, it faced a petition calling for it to be banned. This furore was largely caused by a misunderstanding and mischaracterization of what the society was about and what being ‘pro-life’ actually entails. The Guild then removed the petition citing the education act which states and I am paraphrasing here, ‘you aren’t allowed to ban something because you disagree with it’. It is the ideal behind the society that I wish to defend. That ideal is free speech.
Free speech is an interesting philosophical and political issue. It is not a gift. It is a freedom to be fought for. It only takes an authoritarian government pretending to be benevolent to take it away. That being said, individuals generally do not consider it to be absolute. Free speech faces obstacles such as; hate speech, privileged speech and micro-aggressions. The Pro-Life society was found not to be exhibiting any of the aforementioned obstacles. Therefore, the Guild allowed it to exist as a student society, and the only limit to its free speech should be an incitement to violence.
The limits to freedom of speech on campus are: if a society or individual were to speak in such a way that it is likely to construed as an incitement to violence. However, the line should be drawn rarely and fairly. The Guild and the University have an obligation to protect student’s safety. That being said, they also have an obligation to educate and allow students to challenge their own views and others. It is by the process of free debate and thought that the University is enriched. The University gains immense and irrevocable value when ideas cloak its walls. A lecture theatre is elevated when a lecturer challenges their students to debate an opinion and its merits. No dogma or preconceived opinion should be held without substantive argument in its defence. If these opportunities are prevented then all students lose out.
What should be the adjudication when an idea is considered harmful or dangerous? Well, as aforementioned, faculty and administrators as learned members of the university should be the final authority. Ultimately, it is on their shoulders to evaluate whether claims that speech or ideas are in reality incitements to violence. That is not to diminish people’s feelings about topics. However, there is nothing more powerful than arguing against an idea you disagree with. By doing so, one learns how to evaluate one’s own views and that of their opponents. All parties concerned will no doubt leave the discussion enriched. All have the onus upon them to read up on their ideas and see the qualitative value in them.
Recent research has shown that 80% of British universities have actively censored freedom of speech on campus. Each of the cases can be argued for and against depending on the specific circumstances. However, it should not be the case that those with the loudest voice are always heard. The majority can be wrong and it should always be suspicious when one particular group speaks on behalf of many. Universities and their guilds are diverse places; There are many different and opposing viewpoints, which has inherent value. All should be heard but not to the detriment of someone else’s wishes to speak or to listen to an idea.
The Guild made the right decision because free speech is sacred, It is the engine that drives change. A University should guard freedom of speech, It is a university’s raison d’être. Any society that sees free speech and debate as a threat ought to be feared.