“We Believe in Free Speech, but…”

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One of our chapters got into hot water recently over a banner they posted which poked fun at football player Colin Kaepernick for his now-famous refusal to stand for the National Anthem. I thought it was a clever banner, on a topic that remains a major news story around the NFL, and really all over the U.S. Does Kaepernick have a right to sit or kneel during the National Anthem? Of course he does. Do we have a right to object to it and express our disagreement with his method of protest? Yes, you say? Well, not so fast, because according to some people, no, we don’t. Our humorous banner was considered offensive and hurtful by some interest groups, and they demanded that we get pre-approval of all banners. So let’s get this straight – most (if not all) members of a Deke chapter were offended by Kaepernick’s free expression of his beliefs (nobody from our chapter says he doesn’t have the right to kneel), but those students should not be allowed to express their opinion in opposition to Kaepernick? The University’s position was that it’s not good enough for us to simply say that we’re protesting his actions; we also have to consider the reason for Kaepernick’s protest (social injustice). So, they say we should not have made him the target of our humor, even satirically, because of the cause for which he was protesting. Our satire of his actions, they say, means we are also dismissing the reasons for his protest. Any critique whatsoever of Kaepernick, you would have to conclude, is therefore off limits. (South Park also had a funny satirical scene on Kaepernick.)

So what happens when one party’s free speech is considered offensive by someone who sees/hears it? This debate is being played out around campuses everywhere, and while there is no easy answer, many feel the scale has tipped too far in the direction of suppressing free speech. Some comedians won’t even perform at colleges any more because too much of their routines are considered offensive by somebody.

Of course DKE is part of a community and we must behave responsibly and in good taste. We are, after all, gentlemen, scholars, and jolly good fellows. But where’s the line? Where’s the boundary between censorship and social commentary?

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