Shea: Free speech serves a purpose

The map depicts the location of Germany on a globe. Germans have the right to free speech, yet they also curtail ideologies for speech and symbols representing hate toward a specific group.

Delaney Shea, Columnist

Germany’s laws limiting public hate speech, free speech in U.S.

Last Halloween, I tried reasoning with a guy standing outside a lively pub in Cork, Ireland, dressed as Hitler and reveling in attention. It was perhaps naive, but it rapidly became apparent as he stuttered through his answers that his boisterous cries of, “I’m going to exercise my right to free speech!” and, “I don’t want to live in a dictatorship!” were fronts for a desire for attention and to herald a crudely taken up cause for a perceived injustice. Was this a singular incident? Yes. Does it represent the mindset of a whole faction of people? Also yes. Someone saying something that knowingly hurts another person must come from an injustice that only they see.

There is a difference between dictatorships and creating a respectful, equal community. The wisest mindset is one which attempts to understand others, withholding judgement until another opinion becomes truly harmful and hurtful, then standing firm. 

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Chase Whitten, a third-year studying mechanical engineering, and president of the OSU College Republicans, thinks that one thing contributing to the tensions surrounding “political correctness” is continuing false accusations of bigotry, mainly by leftists.

“Devaluing another human based on their skin color or heritage is an unjustifiable act and there should be no room for it in America,” Whitten said via email. “My personal issue comes about when people start bringing race into an issue where it shouldn’t be one. Calling someone racist is a serious accusation that should not be taken lightly, and should only be done when there has been a clear act of discrimination that has taken place. When false accusations of racism occur with prevalence, it unfortunately allows real racism to blend in.”

Despite this, Whitten remains optimistic that the majority of Americans are reasonable —a smart belief.

“However, most of the conservatives I know don’t take part in this kind of behavior (throwing around terms such as snowflake and SJW), in the same way that most liberals don’t falsely accuse others,” Whitten said via email. “We have a problem in this country where the most extreme on either side yell the loudest, and then we assume those who disagree with us are just like them.”

Anela Asovska, a third-year studying education at University of Rostock in Rostock, Germany, favors Germany’s laws, harmonizing free speech and moral responsibility. 

“About the Nazi salute and other things related to that: it’s definitely not allowed to show any sign of the former Nazi regime in public (emphasis on public). You can put banners and swastikas all over your house if you like,” Asovska said via email. “No one would care, because this is your private ‘use’ and (again one part of the fundamental rights) is not to be touched by anyone. The actual possession doesn’t make it illegal, but the showing of it in public does. It’s part of our politic of remembrance that these symbols and salutes are not allowed to be shown in public as they would, again, be against our fundamental and constitutional law. Every Nazi ideology and the distribution of such are against our constitutional law as well.”

While Germans have and use their right to free speech, they also curtail ideologies, speech and symbols representing hate toward a specific group. The First Amendment is a crucial piece of American policy. However, extra laws along the lines of laws preventing hate speech are steps in the right direction. 

“There is a big difference between saying your opinion and invoking or mobilizing for it, therefore threatening other individuals,” Asovska said via email.

America could take a lesson from Germany, on matters such as the Confederate flag controversy. One can argue that the flag represents Southern pride, as one can argue that Nazi symbols represent native German pride. They represent pride based on a perceived exercising of power, power on a foundation of the control of a specific group. In the case of the Confederate flag, and the Civil War, the South wanted the power to fight a war to continue to have the right to own slaves, according to PBS.

Make it uncomfortable to be racist. Fact check before accusing, absolutely, every time, but do not let anyone make excuses for bigotry. Social and political change go hand in hand. Make America think again.