College Republicans at UCI and Young Americans for Liberty hosted a “Freedom Day” last week on Ring Road in an effort to promote a person’s right to freedom of speech without fear of reproach in the face of political correctness.
Students and passersby were invited to stop by their booth, where club members encouraged them to write anything they wanted on a poster board dubbed the “Free Speech Wall.”
According to the president of College Republicans at UCI, Ariana Rowlands, the event was a response to how political correctness has come to inhibit a person from exercising their right to freedom of speech.
“We wanted to do it because a lot of the times people hear or read something that they find offensive, and they [think] you should be punished for saying what it is ‘I’ found offensive. Offense is an objective thing, I can find something offensive that you may not find offensive, there’s not really a line to draw,” said Rowlands. “Our point is under the first amendment, you can say whatever you want, as long as it’s not inciting violence or shouting fire in a crowded theatre.”
Not all students who participated were necessarily Republican, Libertarian or necessarily in agreement with the discussion, which Rowland saw as an opportunity for a conversation to be generated.
“There were maybe one or two people who had some strong opinions and they voiced them and that’s fine, they can do that,” said Rowlands. “I would always encourage people to engage in an intellectual political debate.”
Cole Hubbard, president of Young Americans for Liberty at UCI, argues that free speech is something that is continuously being infringed upon.
The celebration of Freedom Day was scheduled to end with a screening of the new documentary “Can We Take a Joke”, a film suggesting that free speech has come under siege in an ever growing culture centered around political correctness. However, Hubbard says that upon announcing the event, organizers began receiving threats of protest. 40 minutes into the film a fire alarm was pulled forcing the event to be canceled altogether.
“We were looking forward to showing this film, we think it plays well across a wide range of audiences and would have sparked a healthy conversation about free speech and censorship,” said Hubbard. “I think there’s great irony in that, an alumnus of UC Irvine, and his creation, his project, something we here at UC irvine should really be valuing was shut down by possibly somebody who was angry by what we were doing.”
The director of the film, Tom Balaker, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UCI with degrees in political science and English. While to date the group does not have any evidence on whether the fire alarm was intentionally pulled to cancel the event, Hubbard argues that censorship is counterproductive to what it hopes to achieve.
“Diversity really isn’t helped by censoring offensive speech… the best part about diversity is the clash of ideologies and beliefs,” said Hubbard. “We want to start conversation, and we can’t block everything that everybody finds offensive.”