Young Americans for Liberty hosted an open debate about free speech in the University of California, Santa Barbara Hub on Oct. 10. The debate is the first one in a proposed series of monthly events where students can gather and debate major political topics.
The discussion on Oct. 10 addressed whether or not groups like neo-Nazis or anti-fascist groups should be allowed to speak freely and if symbols like the Nazi swastika or the Confederate flag should be banned.
The event began with Troy Eggertsen, a second year math and philosophy double major and one of the event organizers, introducing the topic and asking people to separate into two sides: free speech for everyone or limited free speech. Then, he invited the audience to get into groups and debate for an hour.
Common topics in the groups were questions like, “How do we define hate speech?,” “Should the government be trusted to regulate hate speech?,” and “Is freedom of speech such a fundamental right that it should be extended to every person, no matter their views?”
Some students argued about whether or not a violent ideology is a clear danger, even when expressed peacefully. Others argued that criminalizing speech will just make suppressed ideas develop secretly and will make ideas fester in society. All of the discussions were passionate but civilized as many people reached a consensus within their group.
After an hour of debating, Eggertsen asked everyone to take their seats and invited people to sign up to go on stage and present their views on the topic. About 20 people went up to argue their perspectives, which ranged from free speech absolutism to censorship of certain hate groups.
One student suggested that people can speak freely in private but should not be given platforms by the media if their speech is hateful. Another suggested free speech should extend to everyone except neo-Nazis. Overall, most of the room came to a consensus that everyone should be able to speak freely as long as it doesn’t present a clear and present danger to any individuals.
In an interview with Eggertsen after the discussion, he said that the Young Americans for Liberty decided to host the event to give students a place to have a “contemporary political debate” on campus. The event’s organizers chose free speech as the topic because this theme felt particularly relevant after the events in Charlottesville. In Charlottesville, white supremacists protested the removal of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s statue and clashed with counter-protesters. As a result of this confrontation, one counter-protester died.
According to Eggersten, the debate did not change his view that there should be unlimited free speech. Afterwards however, he “a lot more respect for the legal gray area that exists, like terms for what is a clear and present danger and what is a feasible, credible threat.”
YAL’s open debate allowed students to hear a broad range of perspectives and allowed them to make their voices heard in a civil environment.