Last Tuesday, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) held an event panel on the First Amendment, in conjunction with the American Library Association and Illinois library Association. The discussion took place at Harold Washington Library.
While topics varied, the conversation always circled back to one thing: balance.
What constitutes obscenity? What are the limits and where do we draw the lines? When or is it okay to ban statues from public places? These are some of the questions the diverse group of panelists tackled.
Most of the panelists agreed that when it comes to college campuses and potential controversial speakers, fighting those with ideas with which we disagree with more of our own speech, is more beneficial and productive than banning a person’s visit.
Making our own decisions, especially in autonomous institutions, even if they sometimes aren’t always considered carefully, is always better than letting the government get involved with what is considered “good” and “bad” speech.
What about the removal of statues, for example Confederate statues? Would an Al- Qaeda flag be tolerated, or would it be removed immediately? The panelists said that’s when we get into the question of if something displays public unrest, and that symbols charged with meaning will always lend themselves to harsh backlash.
The main concept to be taken from this conversation is that context matters. One of the examples the panelists considered is how the First Amendment doesn’t protect the individual right to tell the government “you should remove that statue.” However, this is very different from the fight of a person to display a Confederate flag in the window of their home, for example. Public unrest and individual intent when displaying potentially controversial or dangerous ideas are two of the things we should consider when weighing wether or not something should be banned.