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Freedom of Speech and Colin Kaepernick

Freedom of Speech and Colin Kaepernick

    There are no solutions, only trade-offs. As a young college student I see lots of problems in this world--a world which I’ll probably have to inhabit for another 70 years--and I’d love nothing more than to fix them. It causes a great deal of cognitive dissonance, however, for me to rage against America, the man, or the establishment, but not have an alternative solution. I’m a pacifist, but I demand an end to terrorism. I dislike the wealth gap, but I also dislike socialism. I want social justice, but I don’t like the flag disrespected. I want emotional and ideological safety, but I laud free speech. There are no solutions, only trade-offs.

Higher education is at a crossroads today, debating such topics as trigger warnings and censorship. America is a democracy, which means that generally if the majority does not like something, the majority can change it. This should not apply to speech and ideologies, however. LGBT rights are a perfect example of how we must champion free speech. Homophobic worldviews enrage the majority of millennials that I’ve met. The natural thing to do would be to silence all bigoted and hateful speech. As a Kansan and a Christian I would love nothing more than to shut down the Westboro Baptist Church, but please imagine the world if this policy had been used thirty years ago. My mom says that she didn’t know what homosexuality was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. It often just wasn’t talked about. The majority of Americans perceived homosexuality as gross and profane. It made them very uncomfortable. Discomfort is part of being engaged in a diverse world. Whatever side you are on with this issue, do not take the easy way out and squelch the minority’s freedom of speech, because you never know when you will be the minority.

       How does this relate to the San Francisco 49ers quarterback? Many people are thrilled or abhorred by Kaepernick’s minor action (or rather, inaction). By not standing for the national anthem Kaepernick is protesting injustice in America, primarily racial injustice related to the law enforcement. While acknowledging that America is certainly flawed, I personally perceive the flag as a representation of the many good things in America, so others who share this sentiment are uncomfortable with this form of protest. The general sentiment of those offended by Kaepernick is that his protest is correct, but inappropriate, especially towards the military. Fifty-three years ago, however, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” In it he describes what impedes justice: “the white moderate…says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods.’” While reading many sports personalities’ arguments against Kaepernick, most of their arguments seem quite convincing, but these are rebuffed with the argument that a rich, white coach or sportscaster hasn’t actually seen the injustice. In the end, these arguments hinge on whether Kaepernick turns out to be inappropriate or not, but freedom of speech transcends individual issues. Freedom of speech will always be worth my discomfort over Kaepernick’s lack of patriotism. Perhaps free speech’s power lies in its ability to make us uncomfortable.

Foundational Thoughts on Free Speech

Warren Gillin, MDiv Student

Warren Gillin, MDiv Student