Free speech isn’t an excuse

We shouldn’t wait for free speech to perpetuate hate speech before we act

Our news section this week includes an article about a group called Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. They gave UTSU and UTMSU an F grade because they disagreed with how free speech was being handled at this school.

I agree that these unions are far from perfect. This has even been stated by the executives within the unions. I myself have written editorials about what needs to change.

However, this grade given to UTMSU mainly due to their stance on UTMSFL is bizarre.

JCCF, an organization no older than six years, boasts about their accomplishments in court defending Evangelical student groups or, again, another pro-life group. Of course UTMSU received an F from this website, considering these are the kinds of cases they try to defend.

People are free to believe what they want. To fight for what they want. No one is stopping them, and I’m not calling for a closure of this group or an investigation into their interests. However, when UTMSU president Nour Alideeb stated that this site is motivated by the founder’s personal beliefs, maybe she wasn’t wrong.

In my eyes, it says enough that when me and a friend of mine shared my editorial last week, all those who liked and agreed with it were women. To me, this shows that the only person to have any kind of say over a woman’s body is the woman herself.

I don’t expect to ever agree with someone who advocates for pro-life. And I don’t ever expect them to agree with me. You say “pro-life” and I hear “anti-choice.” I say “pro-choice” and you hear “babies don’t have a right to life.” Whatever the case may actually be, each group will probably think the other ignorant and misinformed.

I’m also aware of how each side probably sounds hypocritical to the other. Pro-choice supporters question why pro-life should be allowed to advocate for something harmful, like destroying a woman’s rights. Pro-life supporters ask why pro-choice should be allowed to advocate for something harmful, like ending human life. There isn’t a definitive judge to decide which side has more of a right to be upset. The probable reason is because both sides contain some sort of hypocrisy. Either way, something is being taken and it all boils down to which life is valued more. There isn’t much else to do besides allow both sides to express their opinion through respectful debate. However, I think we said goodbye to respect that day in Davis.

I discussed this in some depth last week. Though what began as an editorial stating my opinion, of course, had the free speech argument hurled my way.  Alright. Let’s talk about that.

This argument of free speech never fails to ignore the negative impacts caused by freely saying whatever you want. So long as it doesn’t cross that line into hate speech, you can do and say whatever you want, right? And, technically UTMSFL isn’t spewing hate speech, so why are they trying to be silenced or denied club status?

Well, here’s the pickle. Being allowed to say something freely doesn’t give you license to hide behind that excuse when you say something hurtful or damaging to a community. It doesn’t mean you get to abandon all responsibility. It does if you have no other defence. But, if all you have to say about your opinions and the choices you make is, “Excuse me. Free speech,” then you should probably think out your argument a little better.

I know I’ve probably lost half the conservative or anti-union readers at this point, most of whom are probably too blinded by their own anger to listen to me. That or they’re probably thinking of some sort of return-fire comment. All I have to do is publish an editorial stating my opinion and immediately those who disagree charge social media in an attempt to make their case. This doesn’t surprise me. Harambe memes have the power to upset people. This generation is a pretty angry bunch armed with opinions and a keyboard.

I love when people use the argument of free speech to defend their viewpoint, without considering for a second how it might be damaging to others. How shameless plugs in support of an anti-choice agenda don’t qualify as hate speech, and therefore should just be accepted.

For some, if you don’t agree with this, then you’re branded a left-wing extremist. A hippie with your head too far up your ass to see the world for how it is. Too liberal for your own good.

So be it.

It’s worth asking to what degree free speech is actually helpful in a situation like this. There will be some bull-headed pro-life and free speech supporters who will see phrases like “left-wing extremist,” stop listening, and agree with themselves that I somehow solidified their opinion. Equally, I’m relatively sure that if a pro-life supporter were to call themselves ignorant, some on my side would probably agree without doing much else either.

However, it’s important to wonder when people will stop hiding behind the excuse of free speech to justify their harmful behaviour. When Peterson refused to use proper gender pronouns, nothing came of it at first. But soon, his free speech began to perpetuate hate speech from others, thereby completely dehumanizing an entire community.

I could be here for days reminding readers of how Trump’s “free speech” served as the catalyst for deplorable behaviour from those who support him. Instead, I just want to use one example that was literally reported just a few hours ago today. A mosque received a letter saying, “Donald Trump will do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.” According to The Independent, “The handwritten letter was addressed to ‘the children of Satan,’ and expressed support for President-elect Donald Trump. It also called Muslims ‘vile and filthy people.’ ‘Your day of reckoning has arrived. There’s a new sheriff in town, President Donald Trump. He’s going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And, he’s going to start with you Muslims,’ the letter stated. Signed only by ‘Americans for a Better Way […].’” Please tell me again how free speech doesn’t have the power to be harmful. Please tell me again that free speech should be used however and whenever without consequence.

Is this what we need to wait for before something is done to stop “free speech” like this in its tracks? Does UTMSFL need to be the cause for a woman’s breakdown? Why does the worst need to happen before groups take a step back and consider what toll their actions may be taking on a woman? And if the defence here is that she should feel bad, or that pro-lifers feel like they’ve done some good in educating a woman on her own choice, then all that proves is that the goal is to shame women.

For those unaware of the metaphor, “shouting fire in a crowded theatre,” the saying refers to speech or actions citing unnecessary panic. Something important to wonder is whether or not UTMSFL or pro-life supporters are using free speech reasonably or simply using it as a tool to incite fear and panic. That’s my problem with all of this. I see their actions accomplishing the latter.

Though, if UTMSFL wins in court and they’re allowed to keep doing what they’re doing, I won’t fight it. Should a judge see them as a club worthy of stating their message, then that’s how it is. However, that doesn’t mean I have to agree with a message I have believed for years to be misguided and intrusive.

I’m sure people will argue that standing by a decision to silence someone is the same as silencing them myself. It isn’t. Unless I walked up to UTMSFL in Davis and shouted, “Shame!” whenever they tried to talk or blasted white noise “music”, I didn’t strip free speech. Standing by the decision for someone to fight pro-life beliefs isn’t the same as physically stopping free speech. Is free speech only a problem when people think I’m being restricting while managing to completely forget the restrictions of those they stand up for?

As hard as this may be to digest for some, I’m allowed to stand on the side of UTMSU denying club status. I think, regardless of whether or not it’s intended, UTMSFL is currently doing more harm than good. That’s my opinion, and since everyone seems to be gung-ho about free speech, I’m allowed to express my opinion. I’m very aware of the problems within the union. Sure, they accomplish their own restrictions. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong here. Not to me.

UTMSFL has the right to preach their beliefs pretty much wherever else they like. It’s none of my business. They’re within their rights to do so here as well. But that doesn’t mean I have to stand for it as a student of this school. To traipse into a university, one that claims to be a safe space, and shove violent images in the face of young women as a bloody reminder of a decision that had nothing to do with them isn’t something I or other women have to stand for. As a paying student, I have the right to be angry.

Like I said last week, all that happened was the choice to shame women for the decisions that they make, as if these women didn’t already know the consequences. The pamphlet and overall belief system appeals to a much harsher opinion: “Look what you did.” How is that acceptable? Because it isn’t hate speech? They have no idea what the woman was going through. Why she made that choice. If it haunts her. They’re attempting to encourage women to carry a child to term without any consideration for her choice, yet UTMSFL are the ones who feel like their rights are being taken away.

Shout about free speech until you turn blue, it won’t sway my opinion. I’m sure plenty of people will label me and the union as people who don’t fight for free speech. That’s what Peterson said about those who stood against him too. Right before The Medium received emails from trans students asking to be taken off of mailing lists, because they wanted to lay low for a while. Right before Denio Lourenco started getting threats sent to his Facebook. Right before the trans community on campus didn’t feel safe anymore.

But, yeah. Free speech.

YOURS,
MARIA CRUZ