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Op Ed: Freedom of Speech is the antidote to division.

In 2016, Chike Uzuegbunam attempted to share his faith in a public
area of campus at Georgia Gwinnett College. His spontaneous speech was
in violation of the campus free speech policy requiring him to
register in advance, and use the free speech zone set aside for such
activity. He left, made the necessary arraignments, and on the
appointed day began sharing his faith in the free speech zone. What
happened next is in dispute, a dispute which will be settled in court,
as his second attempt to share his faith was also shut down. Lawsuits
such as Uzuegbunam’s have become all too common across the nation, as
campus speech codes have become increasingly restrictive.

After learning of Uzuegbunam’s lawsuit, I was concerned. Working with
colleagues in the State House of Representatives, we met with
officials from Georgia Gwinnett College, and the Board of Regents of
the University System. They were cooperative and understood how
limiting when and where students can express religious, political, or
other opinions, violates rights guaranteed by our First Amendment. In
February of 2017, I introduced House Bill 471, outlining what I felt a
good campus speech policy should look like.

Georgia Gwinnett College changed their policy and now allow
individuals and small groups of students to express their opinions in
all open areas of campus. The Board of Regents also got to work, and
during their August 2017 meeting, made it clear the free speech rights
of students at Georgia’s public college campuses are crucial to a well
rounded education. Campus free speech policies must not violate
student or faculty’s First Amendment right of free speech. I’m pleased
to have played a part in the reaffirmation of these Constitutional
rights. I applaud Georgia Gwinnett College and the Board of Regents
for their prompt and positive action.

In today’s hyper-partisan political climate, protecting free speech is
perhaps more important than ever before. According to a Pew Research
study last October, Americans now divide themselves primarily by
political differences1:

“And the magnitude of these differences dwarfs other divisions in
society, along such lines as gender, race and ethnicity, religious
observance or education.”

Things that divided us in the past are becoming less important, while
political differences are becoming more important, and more divisive.
Modern technology allows us to easily consume news, entertainment,
even music, which affirm our political beliefs, but express a shallow
understanding of other views. Social media allows us to meet
like-minded people, and block out those who aren’t.

When we surround ourselves with mainly affirming political messages,
we live in a bubble, developing inaccurate opinions about those who
hold different views. These inaccurate views can cause us to lose
empathy, blocking us from seeing things from others’ point of view.
Freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment is the antidote
to the bubbles we’ve created.

Now more than ever, we must recommit ourselves to protecting
everyone’s right of free speech, break out of our bubbles, and regain
empathy for our fellow Americans.

1 http://www.people-press.org/2017/10/05/the-partisan-divide-on-political-values-grows-even-wider/

Representative Buzz Brockway is a Republican candidate Secretary of
State and a State Representative from Lawrenceville.