As the smell of spring arrives with the warm weather, there are several things that we can look forward to as Americans. The first is our national pastime, baseball, whose Cactus League offers us a little break from the overload of basketball we've all been encountering lately (please come back, hockey).
Other things we're all looking forward to include plenty of sunshine, the end of school and our right to exercise free speech, right? OK, the free speech thing isn't something that's probably on our minds because we sort of take it for granted, but recent developments are raising serious questions about our supposed "right."
On Oct. 10, at a gay parade called "Outfest" in Philadelphia, a small group of Christian activists were on the sidelines reading scripture, singing songs and handing out song tracks perfectly within their rights. As a countermove, a group called the 'Pink Angels' came out with huge signs intended to block the Christians' view and high-pitched whistles to drown out anything the Christians tried to say.
Obviously, in this situation, there was a clear suppression of a group's basic right to free speech happening, correct? Exactly – it's just that the Christians were the ones that got arrested. Eleven Christians were arrested, and four of them were facing charges related to hate speech that could have resulted in 47 years of jail time. Thankfully, all criminal charges were recently dropped, but this is not an isolated event.
In our own state, schools in the Jefferson County school district are under a new policy that enforces punishment for what they deem "hate speech." Due to a recent incident in which a student felt offended at something said to her (imagine that), the school has now adopted a strict policy toward hate speech.
Students are encouraged to tell on their friends for using words such as "gay" in a pejorative manner and teachers are required to report any such violations to the administration. The feeling coming from students is that their enrollment will be threatened if they are to violate this new policy.
Now, I'm not advocating slanderous speech toward anyone, but didn't we win the Cold War? If a student wants to be a blathering idiot who goes around spewing out racial slurs – "hate speech" or whatever you want to call it – he has every right to.
This pales in comparison to the Philadelphia case though. The Christians were actually arrested for exercising their rights. According to the American Family Association, the charges filed against them included "possession of instruments of crime (a bullhorn), ethnic intimidation (saying that homosexuality is a sin), and inciting a riot (reading from the Bible some passages relating to homosexuality) despite the fact that no riot occurred."
The charges have been dropped, but they never should have been charged with anything in the first place. I had someone tell me at the beginning of the year that there was not a single instance in American history that a Christian had been persecuted for his or her beliefs. As ignorant as the statement sounded at the time, it would resonate with such a pronounced imbecility in light of the Philadelphia case that we'd have to question that person's grasp of reality.
The Philadelphia case is merely a harbinger of where our society is heading with its current love affair with being politically correct. Tune in next week for another example and some thoughts on what we can do to rid ourselves of a self-imposed problem.
Tyler Wittman is a junior speech communications major. His column runs every Tuesday in the Collegian.