Freedom of speech is problematic

Jarrod Weiss - Contributing Columnist

Crazy. Insane. Ghetto. Illegal alien. Freshmen. Fatherly. Healthy. Caucasian. American.

Are you offended yet? Because I can keep going.

Those words — and many more — are now considered “offensive” or “problematic” by many of the colleges and universities in this country. Apparently, being a college student today includes the inability to not be offended by every single word that is uttered, typed or chalked.

As you read the list of words that started this column you might be wondering who would find those words offensive. I’ll tell you who — The University of California, the University of Nebraska, the University of New Hampshire and the University of *ichigan (I can’t type the name of that college — it’s offensive to me).

For all of our enlightenment, for all of our growth in knowledge, for all of our technical and societal advancements, we are now offended by every single word or phrase that even remotely breeches an arbitrary level of decorum.

Recently, students at Emory University caused a slight national kerfuffle when they demanded the university take action against a rash of dangerous, inflammatory and offensive language. Around the campus the following words were chalked on sidewalks and pathways.

Please if you have children nearby do not — I repeat, do not — read this next line aloud for the virgin ears of youth may never recover from their utterance.

Trump 2016.

Raise your jaw from the floor, wipe the blood from your ears and put down the crucifix.

If you follow me on social media or have the pleasure of knowing me in person (the pleasure is all yours), you will know that I am not a Trumpite. Personally, I believe there are not many candidates that could be worse than The Donald.

With that said, anyone who is offended or threatened by the phrase “Trump 2016” written in chalk on the sidewalk that will inevitably meet a quick doom with the slightest April shower has no idea what it means to be “offended.”

The next generation of leaders — and many of our leaders today — believe the only way to ensure people are not offended by others is to do everything they can to limit freedom of speech.

Forget the fact that being offended is an inherent right as an American, a right we should be proud of because in many countries in the world there is no freedom of speech. Without freedom of speech you don’t have the right to be offended. Yes, offensive speech is part what we enjoy with the freedom to speak as we please.

One lesson I always try to impart on my students is that there is nothing in the US Constitution or the Bill of Rights that prevents someone from being a complete and total jerk. There is also nothing in either document that says you have a right to not be offended.

If we want freedom of speech in this country we must accept the positive with the negative. In order to have the freedom to say what we want to say we have to be willing to allow those who say something to the opposite, even the offensive, to say what they want to say.

We cannot protect our freedom of speech simply by limiting the freedom of speech of someone else.

The issue is that we have created a society in which we are offended by everything and expect that no matter the words if someone, somewhere deems them to be offensive the words cannot be said. But that is not freedom of speech. That is not America.

What offends me the most about everyone being offended by everything is we have completely ignored the intentions of the people who said the words. When we believe everything to be offensive to someone we automatically assume the person saying the words intended those words to be offensive.

One phrase the University of California says is “problematic” is the question, “Where are you from?” When I was in college this was a question you asked everyone you met because you wanted to know where they were from — were they from the Columbus area, Ohio, another state, another country …

Now, the University of California says that phrase is “problematic” because they say the person asking the question assumes the person they are asking the question to is not from this country or somehow “less American.” I always thought it was just a question to learn more about someone.

But that is where we are now. Asking a person where they are from is problematic because it makes an assumption. Well, unless the person was born on campus and has never left they are from somewhere else other than the campus. Asking them where they are from is not offensive, it is a friendly attempt at getting to know someone.

And this is not a “conservative vs. liberal” ideological battle, either. Bill Maher, the far-left commentator/comedian on HBO, said he would like to “dropkick” the students at Emory and send them to a place where there is real oppression. I hope they weren’t offended by his threatening words.

He does make a great point. There is real oppression and real threats to personal freedom across the globe. When we claim every word to be offensive and problematic we drastically downplay the real oppression of people that takes place all over the world and appear petty.

The problems we have in this country will not be cured until we stop being offended by words, start judging the intentions of people on their face and not on what we perceive them to be, and start working together.

Yes, there are truly offensive words and hurtful language. Yes, there are words that go too far. Yes, there are things that people are sincerely offended by. But we don’t fight back against those offensive words by strangling freedom of speech. We fight back with the truth and with our own loving words that build people up rather than tear them down.

Now, it’s time for me to get back to my Mel Brooks movies and episodes of “Family Guy” and “South Park.” Those aren’t offensive to anyone.

Jarrod Weiss lives in New Vienna and is a teacher in the Hillsboro City Schools district. He can be reached at

Jarrod Weiss

Contributing Columnist