Rice University Student Stands Up for Free Speech in ‘The Rice Thresher’

November 22, 2011

Pro tip: If your speech silences someone else’s speech, there’s a good chance that your speech is no longer protected.

That is the subject of an op-ed last week in The Rice Thresher by Rice University student Anthony Lauriello, titled "Eric Cantor protests at Rice University an affront to open discourse and free speech." According to the column, protestors at a recent speaking engagement from Congressman Eric Cantor on Rice’s campus began shouting down the congressman as he reached the podium to speak. The protestors were escorted from the event, and Rice President David Leebron stood up to note that the intentional disruption was an attempt to stymie free discourse and would not be tolerated.

Lauriello points out that, although the protestors may have believed they were simply exercising their own free speech, in fact they were engaging in a form of censorship known as the "heckler’s veto":

Some will claim that the protesters’ outburst fell within their First Amendment rights. […] In many of my columns I have argued the importance of exercising this very right and articulating one’s opinions to further the cause of American democracy. However, attempting to shout out during another’s talk with your opinions is not expressing your opinion but trying to stop someone else’s.

This idea is laid out clearly by Anthony in his penultimate paragraph:

Democracy requires the ability to express one’s ideas, even if you don’t agree with them. As famous Supreme Court Justice Brandeis once wrote when discussing hateful speech, "The remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."

FIRE hopes that in the future, students will exercise their rights to free speech to express a viewpoint, instead of trying to prevent others from doing so.

Schools:  Rice University