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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: The right to free speech doesn’t give right to make others feel unsafe

Student protestors at Ohio State University were told to vacate the premises inside one of the university buildings earlier this month, or they’d be hauled away by the men in blue.

In what appeared to be a peaceful sit-in protest, students were told by university messengers to either vacate the building or deal with the police, due to a safety issue for the workers at the university. Everyone has the right to feeling safe, no matter the location, and the university staff had every right to take this action.

The students were even threatened with being expelled from the school for violating the student conduct policy if they didn’t leave.

No specific names of which staff felt unsafe were provided by the administrators, only a vague explanation was given of workers in the building not feeling safe because of the protest. Some workers even left before their shifts ended the night before, due to the unsafe situation.

If somebody feels unsafe, they feel unsafe. They shouldn’t have to justify this feeling or explain why they feel unsafe, and the level of fear shouldn’t have to be extremely high before action is taken. Fear is just as valid as any other emotion.

While this event certainly looks like an infringement upon the right to freedom of speech for the students, when the safety of others is an issue, those rights go out the window.

On our own campus, we have to endure Brother Jed and his nonsensical posse that love telling students they’re going to hell.

There has been talk of trying to take away the right to free speech that these traveling preachers have, simply because they spit so much hatred. That hasn’t happened, and probably never will. Say what you want about Brother Jed, but as much as those bigots annoy everyone, they don’t really cause any safety concerns and can thus continue to spread their “message.”

The moment there’s a safety concern for or coming from Brother Jed and company, the plug will be pulled and his guaranteed sweet spot in front of the Student Union Memorial Center will be taken away and his bigotry will have to be taken elsewhere.

Violence can and does erupt in an instant. Yes, the Ohio State students might have been sitting peacefully in the video of the incident, but if there’s one thing that drives people to the brink of losing their cool, it’s being ignored.

The administration was simply taking action to ensure that didn’t happen — when they received word that staff felt unsafe, it was their responsibility to change that.

Safety is the No. 1 priority at every event, and sometimes certain rights need to be taken away or temporarily suspended to ensure that safety is intact and that everyone is able to walk away with all of their limbs still attached.

I hope other college campuses follow Ohio State’s example; it sends a strong message to everyone that unsafe protesting won’t be tolerated.

Whether true danger is present or not, action needs to be taken in an environment that feels unsafe. The Ohio State staff did just that, and had every right to limit the students’ right to free speech to protect the safety of their employees.

Follow Daniel Geffre on Twitter.

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