This week, Amazon founder and owner of The Washington Post, Jeff Bezos, had something rather refreshing to say about the right to free speech.
“The most important thing to remember is that beautiful speech doesn’t need protection. It’s ugly speech that needs protection,” said Bezos. “Somebody is going to write something very ugly, and certain people will say they need to be punished for that ugly speech. But if you step back and think about what a great society we have, a big part of it is the fact that we have these cultural norms that allow people to say really ugly things. We don’t have to like it….”
Bezos hits on two important aspects of free speech: the Constitutional aspect and the cultural aspect. Freedom of speech is engrained in our Constitution. However, that point is nearly moot if said right is not respected in our culture. Take our college campuses for example. The first amendment is still a permanent part of our legal system. Yet, you wouldn’t guess so by listening to a number of professors and campus administrators. Respect for the first amendment is certainly dwindling in the higher education system. This is something Young Americans for Freedom chapters encounter frequently. Look at the University of Michigan, where a showing of American Sniper was cancelled over fears of “Islamophobia.” Think about Virginia Tech, where the YAF chapter had their funding revoked for bringing a conservative speaker to campus.
Bezos is correct in acknowledging that the first amendment is designed to protect the right to “ugly” or “offensive” speech. If the first amendment only protected “acceptable” speech, there’d be little to speak about at all.
Benjamin Franklin touched upon this, “If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed,”
I’m certain that our university systems could learn a thing or two from Jeff Bezos. If more people had this level of respect for the First Amendment, we’d all be better off.