Penn State takes a stance for the First Amendment

Penn State takes a stance for the First Amendment

“I don't agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

That famous quote does not actually come from Voltaire, but it could have come from the leadership of The Pennsylvania State University (PSU) this week.

At PSU, a recognized student organization has invited Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes and self-described “professional troll” and “right-wing comedian” Alex Stein to speak on campus later this month. Some student groups are now calling on Penn State administrators to block the event.

We’ve seen this story before. But this time, it has a different ending: Penn State said no.

“Our University neither supports nor condones the vitriolic and hateful language targeting particular groups that has been used by these speakers in the past,” the school’s leaders said in an official statement. However, “we must continue to uphold the right to free speech — even speech we find abhorrent. … To do otherwise not only violates the Constitution but would erode the basic freedom each of us shares to think and express ourselves as we wish.”

And the leaders of Penn State might have more support for this position than they imagine.

In a 2020 Knight Foundation survey of 3,000 undergraduate college students, 96% said they thought citizens’ free speech rights were extremely or very important in American democracy.

That may be what students say. But they certainly don’t seem to think they can speak freely on campus.

According to a 2021 College Pulse study of 37,000 students:

  • 80% say they self-censor at least some of the time.
  • 48% are somewhat or very uncomfortable with expressing their views on a controversial topic during classroom discussions.

No Labels doesn’t agree at all with what the Proud Boys stand for, but that’s precisely the point. The First Amendment doesn’t just protect free speech for people we like or agree with. It protects the right of every American to worship, assemble, think, and speak freely, and that’s an idea No Labels will always stand behind. Please join us in our mission.