Free speech forum reveals grey area of first amendment rights

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On Nov. 6, a forum was held by the Associated Students of Skyline College, commonly referred to as ASSC, on the open discussion of the difference between free speech and hate speech and what is allowed on Skyline campus.

As guests to the forum, Skyline College Vice President Dr. Garcia, Director of Marketing, Communications and Public Relations Cherie Colin and Connor Fitzpatrick, a communications manager, sat in to answer students’ questions.

In the beginning of the forum, some of the students volunteered their definition of the two speeches. Hailey Cantina, a psychology major said, “Free speech can be calm and hate speech can be just violent and hostile.”

Another student, Ryan Thompson, agreed with Cantina but elaborated that hate speech comes with free speech despite having an audience who covet this right to speak freely without offending others.

“So I feel like when you bring hate speech in your free speech…you kind of bring down the important part of it when you do hate speech,” Thompson said. “Because it’s the part no one wants to hear and when you’re protesting, all you hear is people protest. When you bring hate speech all the people start will having [a] problem with it.”

The next question raised was, “Can they really say that?” in reference to racism, name calling, sexism and bigotry. The answer was “yes,” which was validated by Garcia.

A short video was shown on the difference between hate and free speech where it went over most of the guidelines of where people can spout free speech and why, despite some of it being deemed free speech.

“I think the difference between hate speech and free speech can be protected under a free speech blanket,” Cantina said. “But I feel like hate speech is more associated with violence when it becomes different than free speech.”

Most of the questions and comments were in reference to the pro-life group Project Truth who came on campus.

In September, after Project Truth made a demonstration for their beliefs, many students voiced their concerns and attitudes about the group. With blown-up graphic images of aborted fetuses, it triggered the students and others who are still recuperating from it.

“When the anti-abortion protesters came, I made pro-choice posters and using our free speech and our right to counter protest … and I handled it respectively…” said Cassidy.

The forum also discussed how the campus could have handled it better due to the effects it had on people on campus. Garcia made it clear that protesters or any groups who want to practice free speech do not need to fill out a form due to the campus being public property. Free speech can happen in the streets of a public city street, universities, government buildings and other government establishments.

However, there are rules protesters have to follow called time, place and manner. The time can’t be disruptive and regarding place and manner, they cannot block pathways of others, touch students or be in a place where it disrupts education. The quad is a popular place to hold such protests to get people’s attention.

Another factor in not being able to warn students that Project Truth was coming to campus was that they had sent out an email showing interest in coming but did not follow through with a confirmation notice according to Garcia. The loopholes that protect the protesters’ rights also protect the students’ and community’s rights to counter protest.

The students had the idea to set out a table full of informational pamphlets in order for students to get the help that they need such as counseling services, and other information based on the protesters’ event. The other suggestion was that Skyline should send out an email on the free speech rights that people have and why they can take place on campus.