In Defense of Free Speech

by Ryan Houldin,
CAIR-Philadelphia Civil Rights Attorney

Last week Robert Spencer spoke at Gettysburg College, at the request of the Young Americans for Freedom, an activist group with conservative views. Robert Spencer espouses extreme anti-Islamic views. According to Southern Poverty Law Center, his work was cited numerous times by the Norwegian terrorist that murdered over seventy people, and he has been deemed an extremist by the U.K. and thus barred from entering the country.

Prior to his scheduled appearance, more progressive Gettysburg students and faculty objected to his presence, and called for the President of the college to cancel the event. Several students reached out to CAIR-Philadelphia asking us to join in the call to prevent Robert Spencer from speaking at their campus. CAIR-Philadelphia declined to join in the call, and I’d like to explain why.

The reason the constitution was created in the first place was to make sure that people have rights that cannot be taken away by the government. One such right is the right to free speech, which applies equally to everyone. The government cannot choose which speech to permit and which speech to limit. Such a system would defeat the entire idea of free speech. If we as a society believe that free speech is integral to our democracy, which I believe it is, then we must ensure that such speech is truly free from government interference. If we infringe upon the rights of those we do not agree with, we infringe upon the rights of everyone.

CAIR-Philadelphia believes that Robert Spencer has the right to speak at Gettysburg. However, we vehemently object to his message and encourage everyone dedicated to equality and justice to push back against his hateful rhetoric. We suggest picketing the event, leafleting the audience with a counter message, and inviting Muslim speakers to campus.

The way to counter the Robert Spencers of the world is not to silence them, but to struggle for a world without bigotry and injustice, and compassion for all, because actions speak louder than words.

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