The relationship between diversity and the First Amendment was examined last Thursday in “The Religious and Cultural Context Freedom of Speech” forum.
“Freedom of speech is the basis for a democratic and free society,” said Veena Howard, a Fresno State philosophy professor and the keynote speaker for the forum. “If we don’t have freedom of speech, then we are reduced to monotonous beings.”
The forum, in the Satellite Student Union, opened with remarks from Provost Lynnette Zelezny and University President Dr. Joseph Castro. Castro said Fresno State values diversity as well as the liberty to express oneself.
“Diversity and freedom of speech can support one another,” he said.
Howard’s speech explored how members of various cultures and religions have utilized their right to freedom of speech. She explained that at times, people choose not to openly express facets of their religion or their culture because they fear being discriminated against.
“Freedom of speech is not simply saying what you mean,” Howard said. “It means freedom of expressing through clothes, freedom of expressing one’s own faith [or] freedom to confront any injustices.”
Howard closed with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Differences of opinion should never mean hostility.” She also said that people should not simply tolerate other religions, but should also show respect and appreciation.
Howard’s speech was followed by a panel discussion with two Associated Students, Inc. presidential candidates – Demi Wack, ASI vice president of external affairs, and Sen. Sebastian Wenthe, clubs and organizations.
Wenthe said that freedom of speech will inevitably cause differing and even opposing opinions to be expressed. Although this can make some uneasy, Wenthe said expression of viewpoints is still crucial.
“There is no success in comfort. There is only complacency,” Wenthe said.
In addition, Wenthe said freedom of speech should still be upheld, even in instances in which others aren’t at ease with what someone else is expressing. “Discomfort doesn’t justify censorship,” he said.
Wack said that there are people who might not feel comfortable speaking out about the way they feel. She said that people should work to create spaces in which people are more likely to openly voice their viewpoints.
“People aren’t always comfortable voicing their opinions,” Wack said. “It’s our job to create a space for them.”
Attendee Cameron Ervin said the forum presented him with a new perspective on the concept of freedom of speech.
“It’s [often] about political speech, but I also think that there’s a lot to be said about religious aspects to it,” Ervin said.