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Should universities no-platform speakers? Show more Show less

Universities are meant to be the burgeoning hubs of idea exchange, yet denying controversial speakers a platform on campuses has become increasingly acceptable? Are there good reasons to no-platform inflammatory speakers?
No-platforming is harmful and shouldn’t be done
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A violation of free speech

Many countries in the West have laws protecting free speech. No-platforming violates those protections.

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Context

Parliament has clearly defined laws on what constitutes hate speech and falls outside the legal boundaries of free speech. By law, everything else is protected under our principles of free speech.

The Argument

Universities no-platforming speakers is in violation of our country’s belief in free speech. The Universities' job is not to censure or stifle opinion. It is to promote the exchange of ideas and philosophies. It is not up to them to decide what ideas are offensive, or even illegal (that is the job of parliament). It is simply to provide a platform for free speech. Under the Education Act no.2 of 1986, universities are legally prohibited from stifling free speech (however, this does not apply to student unions). [1] If anybody is deemed to be engaging hate speech, or expressing discriminatory, racist or anti-Semitic opinions, then it is the responsibility of the police to bring charges against that person. For Universities to no platform speakers is for them to violate somebody’s free speech. Under no circumstances should they be permitted to do so.[2]

Counter arguments

Free speech isn’t just about speech it is about context. We are free to say anything we want in the right context. But we are not free to say anything we want in any context. Anti-war protestors picketing a dead soldiers funeral would technically be legal, but is it just? No. A university with a significant transgender community is not the right context for a speaker that disagrees with trans rights. There may be another university where the student body is not as diverse that would be a more appropriate setting for that speaker. Each university should be free to offer a specific context, and only accept speakers that express opinions fitted to that context. The government actually acknowledges this in other spaces. Its 2014 Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPOs) allows local authorities to penalise individuals if their conduct has had “a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”.[3] It is this order that would allow a council to prevent a far-right, anti-immigration group marching through an area with a significant immigrant population.

Premises

P1: England upholds the protection of free speech. P2: No-platforming would violate an individual’s right to free speech. C1: Universities should not be allowed to no-platform speakers.

Rejecting the premises

Rejecting P1: Free speech isn’t just about what you say, it is also about where you say it.

References

  1. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1986/61
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/dec/26/jo-johnson-universities-no-platforming-freedom-of-speech
  3. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/no-platforming-free-speech-challenge-jo-johnson-germaine-greer-university-a8130421.html

Proponents

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This page was last edited on Monday, 17 Dec 2018 at 18:22 UTC