The independent student newspaper at the University of Maryland at College Park – The Diamondback – published an op-ed Oct. 9 that many readers found blatantly homophobic. Several hundred students gathered at the College Park campus Monday to protest the Diamondback’s publication of the piece. Some protesters carried signs bearing messages such as “Free Speech Is Not an Excuse for Ignorance.”
So soon after the beating and murder of student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, it is not surprising people were outraged at a piece that characterized homosexuality as a “genetically defective state” and blasted homosexuals for “nonstop effort to push their `twisted and perverted’ views on everyone.” But while protesters decry the publication of those prejudiced views, they are exercising the same right the op-ed’s author exercised – the right to free speech. The views expressed in the op-ed were disgusting, but the author has a right to express them in a public forum such as the opinion pages of a newspaper.
The Diamondback failed to properly authenticate the op-ed’s author. It turns out that the name they were given was a pseudonym. No one knows the real author’s identity. Perhaps if protesters knew who actually penned the op-ed, they would focus at least part of their anger on that person.
The Diamondback should have made a greater effort to verify the author actually was who he said he was. But the fact remains that The Diamondback had every right to publish those bigoted views, regardless of who or how many readers were offended by the piece’s content. The essence of freedom of speech is that it protects all speech – not just the rational and non-offensive. The U.S. Constitution allows Americans to voice unpopular or offensive opinions without fear of retribution. If people take issue with those opinions, they can use the same right of free expression to voice their opposition.
Repressing unpopular or bigoted views will not make them go away. The only way to combat prejudice and ignorance is to bring them out into the open and expose them to criticism. While the views expressed in the op-ed are repulsive, they have every right to be published. Perhaps the views themselves should be debated, but not the right to express them.