The Daily Gamecock

Column: It's time to end the attack on free speech

Freedom of speech is one of society's most important inalienable rights, and it is being consistently stripped away from students and American citizens. This needs to end now.

According to FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, freedom of speech goes hand in hand with freedom of thought, and without either one, people become puppets to the government and other powerful organizations.

Free speech is being plucked away by institutions because they believe that their voices are the only valid ones. Any private company can disfavor a job candidate based on their political opinions, according to Forbes. There are no federal laws making this decision illegal. The majority is being silenced by the few in power.

According to a 2024 article from The New York Times, Nathan Thrall, a correspondent on the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, was forced to sign a contract that would censor his speech in order to speak at the University of Arkansas. Thrall wished to share his years of experience as a journalist covering the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians with the student body. The contract required Thrall to share information only if it fit what the state government believed should be said. As a result, he was unable to share his true experiences at a time when questions needed to be answered about the war. 

Students and the community are fed up with having their words taken away from them, or with not being able to voice their opinions at all due to worries about getting canceled. Students stay silent in fear of being targeted or ridiculed by peers. According to a 2020 study from Washington University in St. Louis, more than 40% of Americans decide to remain silent on issues due to fear of being judged. 

Without freedom of speech, students can't openly express their opinions or concerns, which takes away their right to demand change on campus.

Eric Robinson, a law and ethics professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, said remaining silent about important issues can create a divide within society, and freedom of speech helps to amend that.

“It’s like a release valve for society," Robinson said. "People express themselves, so they don’t get frustrated and act violently." 


USC's campus has been ranked as one of the worst schools in the country for its handling of free speech, according to FIRE. USC's lack of response to its de-platforming attempts, which prevented multiple speakers from coming to speak on campus, played a large part in its poor ranking.

In a survey conducted among USC students in early February, respondents were asked how safe they felt to express their opinions on campus. The average rating was a 3.2 on a scale of 5. There is no reason for this figure to be that low. For a state school that preaches the importance of expression and the equity — as seen in its Free Speech on Campus policies — that is an extremely poor and embarrassing rating.

Students shouldn’t have to be worried that they will be canceled, ridiculed or rejected from future opportunities due to their opinions on major issues, such as abortion and gun control. According to FIRE, 49% of students are scared to share their beliefs on abortion due to its potential backlash.

Simmons said freedom of expression is becoming a right-wing issue when it should be an issue for everyone. Free speech is needed to facilitate the conversations between people from both sides of the political spectrum, he said.

Nothing will improve if only one political party is able to voice its opinions without retaliation. Many right-wing individuals are worried about the backlash they could get from speaking their opinion. Left wing individuals tend to carry less social pressure when expressing their views, Simmons said. 

If opinions can't be openly expressed, no change is going to be made in society, thus continuing the constant censorship that is being faced today.

Society needs to focus its attention on censoring words that incite violence and cause hateful acts rather than opinions that differ from what is conventional. It’s time for a change so people can finally feel free to discuss and promote their ideologies.

Organizations at USC, such as Uncensored America and Free Speech Forum, are working to advocate for people's right to freedom of speech, but it’s going to take more to end the lack of freedom on campus. All students need to fight the fear of being cancelled by peers and future companies in the workforce. Students should speak up on ideas that they're passionate about and be open to hear from others. 

The school is working on fixing its reputation by taking steps to improve its free speech policies. As stated in an email sent out to the student body on Feb. 14, the school is promoting freedom of speech by creating a climate that encourages dialogue and commending "The Chicago Principles," which state that “it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”

No matter how many policies are put into place, it’s up to the students to lead the fight to end the censorship brought upon their natural born right. Speak up, vote for candidates that will protect your freedom and challenge those who aim to take away your right.