Free speech is one of our most basic rights as Americans. But is that right offensive? Shortly after Harvard University abolished the title of “House Master” for allegedly referencing slavery, the prestigious college is facing another issue over the American flag. Rachel Huebner, a staff writer for the Harvard University Crimson, talked to Megyn Kelly of Fox News about her concerns that students at Harvard (and in general) are becoming close-minded towards others’ opinions.
She cited the incident in question, where a Harvard student who hung an American flag in his dorm room was asked by his roommate to remove said flag. Why? The flag “represented a political statement” the roommate was “not willing to make.” In the video, Huebner discusses how this incident is exemplary of a larger, more important issue: the issue of free speech vs. the right to offend. She expresses her feelings that Harvard students are quick to label anything “offensive” if it does not agree with their worldview, and points to several different examples.
This isn’t by any means the first time free speech vs. the freedom to offend has been debated. Aside from the incidents at Harvard University, a protest of a Marine’s funeral by the Westboro Baptist Church drew fire from the deceased’s father for being inappropriately timed. Fox News Insider reported on the article Huebner wrote for the Crimson, wherein she stated her feelings that free speech was slowly dying on college campuses in the name of political correctness.
“I used to believe that open discourse was a value all Americans hold dear. I presumed that when asked about what makes America so unique, many Americans would respond that our pluralistic society is the foundation of so much of our success. That it was understood that without a marketplace of ideas, our society simply could not flourish.
“But then I started college.”
Huebner goes on to state that being presented with multiple viewpoints and dissenting opinions is essentially the whole point of an education. She expresses her concerns that Harvard professors may be too worried about their students’ feelings and thus will shelter them from opinions that conflict with the students’ own ideas. Perhaps one of the more extreme cases of hypersensitivity at Harvard was the story of a pro-choice student who found out her fellow students’ positions on abortion so that she could avoid sitting near pro-life learners.
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And what was Megyn Kelly’s reaction? She and her crew burst out laughing after being told the story of the student who was “offended” by the American flag. It’s pretty clear from the beginning Fox News considers the Harvard students overly sensitive, and Megyn even introduces Rachel by saying “Cupcake alert,” probably suggesting she is soft.
Harvard University has had other issues with free speech in the past as well. As the Washington Post noted, a student named Bridget Kerrigan hung a Confederate flag in her dorm room window in the winter of 1991, and refused to remove it despite multiple complaints and protests.
In spite of the mounting pressure, the school defended Kerrigan’s actions as free speech, so it will likely do the same with the Harvard incident surrounding the American flag. This issue also brings into mind debates over whether it is free speech or offensive to burn the American flag, and will likely remain a hotbed issue for some time. Perhaps author Salman Rushdie summed it up best when he said, “Without the freedom to offend, freedom of speech ceases to exist.”
— Tina Kilpatrick (@tina_kilpatrick) April 1, 2016
Let us know what you think about the debate between free speech and offensiveness at Harvard University. Does the student who hung the American flag have a right to do so, or should their rights be limited if exercising those rights may offend someone else?
[Image Via Lipton Sale, Wikipedia.org, CC-BY SA 3.0]