An Executive Order on Free Speech

On March 2nd, in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, President Donald J. Trump declared his intention to sign an executive order supporting free speech on colleges’ campuses. Although this announcement was initially met with a response of cheers and applause, the clearly impressed crowd likely does not see the full extent of what this new policy will have on campuses across the country.

The president’s policy has several different effects on universities around the country. Trump still has not gone into extensive details on what this policy outlines in the rights of free speech.  Ultimately, his goal is for all voices and speakers, especially conservative ones, to be heard and accepted on college campuses. It remains quite clear that one of Trump’s main stakes for this policy is the “discrimination” he sees young conservatives facing on college campuses in the rise of an ever more liberal thinking generation. At this convention, one of the speakers was twenty-six year old Hayden Williams, who was punched in the face at UC Berkeley on February 19th, 2019 when recruiting for a conservative group. During the conference, Trump went on to state, “If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions; they’ve got to allow people like Hayden and many great young people, and old people, to speak.”  It’s no secret that conservative speakers do not get the warmest of welcomes on college campuses, yet Trump wants to change this precedent to have such speakers receive better reception at universities across the nation.

As for the repercussions? Allegedly, universities and persons who fail to follow this policy will be denied federal research funds. This is a punishment that certainly holds more leverage for some parties than others; it probably will have more of an impact on smaller universities that are sustained by government funding over larger private universities with a range of different financial backings and large endowments behind them.

There are still many items left unclear about this policy since it was just initially announced with little detail on specifics. A big question is whether or not this policy be implemented across the board, including at private religious institutions where certain speakers could attempt to promote ideas that do not follow the schools’ policies or codes of conduct. Moreover, how far, or how damaging, can content be, though still considered legal free speech?

I support the principle of free speech as much as I support the right for everyone to have their own beliefs and opinions and argue for their value. However, there are times when certain beliefs and opinions may impede and bar the benefits or denigrate equality for other groups. I believe that when this line is crossed, when an individual’s free speech is directly damaging to the lives of others, is when attention should be called, and the rights and safety of every person should be protected. Trump’s policy may very well push the boundary of when you can stop speech that is directly harmful to someone else, which could end up putting more students and people at risk, something President Trump should take into account. In 2018, several universities reported protests over controversial conservative speakers, clearly exemplifying that a sore spot already exists in the area.

Opinions differ greatly on how we are in an age that celebrates expression, opinion, and speech, but also one that strives to foster safe spaces and embraces political correctness. Regardless, whatever policy Trump will put out will likely be argued should it pose too radical a change. Should this policy come entirely to fruition, it may set a new precedent for what is allowed on a college campus and call on students, administrators, faculty, and universities, as a whole, to pay close attention as they gently toe the line of what is still considered free speech and where it migrates into damaging rhetoric.

Sources: CNN, San Francisco Chronicle