Free speech codes need second look, not complete overhaul

The Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom recently issued “red lights” to TCU, the University of North Texas and other local colleges telling them that their free speech codes are unconstitutional. While the group’s ideas about suppressing freedom of speech with regards to religious ideas are mostly focused on public universities, TCU is a curious case because it has “Christian” right there in its name.

The group targets speech codes that it sees as overly broad and vague and seeks to have them dropped or changed. Eliminating speech codes will help the group’s goals of eliminating the vagueness of the code’s language. A look at the ADF Center’s Web site and the list of cases it has argued reveals that most of the disputes in Texas involve non-discrimination policies that prevent Christian student organizations from forming because the requirement for membership, which is subscribing to Christian belief, excludes other students. One case at the University of Houston involves the anti-abortion group Justice for All, which displays pictures of aborted fetuses on posters.

There are more divisive acts of free speech than creating a Christian student organization. Take the members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., who got support from the Supreme Court to hold signs at soldiers’ funerals saying such things as “Semper Fi, Semper Fags.” The signs displayed their belief that the United States is deserving of our nation’s soldiers dying in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because of the government’s tolerance of homosexuality.

There is free speech, and there is the kind of free speech that irritates. Whether it’s the left-leaning flag burners or the right-wing tea partiers with their signs portraying President Barack Obama as a witch doctor, sometimes it seems that our mothers were right in saying, “If you have nothing good to say, don’t say it at all.”

But free speech is a necessary step in our democratic process, and part of that process is having to listen to things we don’t agree with. Sure, we can hole ourselves up in our chosen news channel’s purported ideology, but eventually we’re going to have to listen to someone on the other side.

Whether you are a card-carrying member of the right or left or you’re too jaded to even care, we have to tolerate those who are intolerable of others. They have a right to be wrong.

Chance Welch is a senior film-TV-digital media major from Fort Worth.