Editorial: Yes, the First Amendment needs to protect controversial speech


Max Goldberg/Iowa State Daily

Students gather on the steps of Curtiss Hall as part of the the Democalypse March on April 21. The march around campus gave college and high school students an experience of what life would be like without the first amendment. 

Editorial Board

We live in an often polarized country, where many people want to hear only viewpoints like their own. Or further, some believe that there is no place for controversial views. 

But that’s not what the First Amendment, the foundation of our democracy, is about. The First Amendment — which limits government from impeding on freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition — was meant to protect controversial views and discourse. 

The Newseum Institute’s State of the First Amendment from 2017 found that “43 percent of Americans felt that colleges should have the right to ban controversial campus speakers.” The ISD Editorial Board believes this is dangerous.

We believe in civil discourse and we believe that any kind of prejudice is harmful to society. But limiting controversial speech does not stop oppression or prejudice ideology. And further, limiting controversial speech may set a precedent for limiting many other forms of speech. 

Not all controversial views are hate speech, they just might be unpopular. At any point in history, there was unpopular opinion that turned into positive change and a better society. Imagine women’s suffrage or the civil rights movement without the protection of the First Amendment. At the time, those movements were seen as radical. That’s why it is so important that we protect radical expression because limiting hate speech could lead to limiting voices striving for equality. 

Of course, the First Amendment also protects hate speech, which often does nothing to help society. According to the State of the First Amendment, “22.5 percent of participants supported the claim that the First Amendment freedom protection goes too far.” That’s most likely because people don’t believe that such things like prejudice comments or slurs should be allowed.

But rather than dismissing controversial views and unpopular opinions, we believe we should use the best remedy that the First Amendment allows us: combat hate speech with more speech. If people speak out of ignorance and hate, 100 more people can speak out against them. That is the beauty of the First Amendment.

As Iowa State celebrates First Amendment Days, we hope that you will recognize the importance of the First Amendment and that you too will fight to protect the right to share controversial views about