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The Tower

The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

The Land of the (Too) Free Speech

A retiring Editor-in-Chief reflects on America’s abuse of free speech
Lisa Pan
I’m in no way against people expressing themselves. The thing I have a major problem with is when people take advantage of free speech to attack others.

It’s September 14, 1814, and a man’s eyebrows furrow as he taps his quill pen on the desk, chews on its tip, and then taps it again. This isn’t just any ol’ fellow, though — it’s American patriot Francis Scott Key putting the finishing touches on his poem. And just like Key, this isn’t just any ol’ literary work — this poem became known as The Defense of Fort McHenry, and its words later became The Star-Spangled Banner.

Key famously penned the phrase, the “Land of the Free,” after witnessing the American flag that gallantly flew in the sky despite the British bombarding a Maryland fort during the War of 1812. Now, more than two centuries later, Americans still use this clause in their everyday conversations. To justify everything. From a slip up comment to an entire harmful facade.

As an Editor-in-Chief of The Tower (unbiasedly the best high school publication in the world) as well as someone with quite a few opinions, I strongly value our nation’s promise of free speech. Without it, would I have been able to advocate against the U.S. government’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games? To recognize that more and more Americans are resembling snowflakes and that their sensitivity is ruining our education system? To argue that our nation has become increasingly polarized in politics and that people need to stop getting fooled by politicians’ promises? No. So what’s the issue?

First and foremost, I want to make it clear that I’m not against people expressing themselves. If you want to convince me in a restaurant review that spaghetti is the best noodle ever (I may disagree), go for it. If you want to broadcast to the whole world that the Yankees suck and that the Red Sox reign supreme (go Cubs go), be my guest. The thing I have a major problem with is when people take advantage of free speech to attack others.

Let’s look back to late November of 2023 — after conspiracy theorist and Infowars (a far-right conspiracy theory and fake news website owned by Alex Jones) broadcaster Alex Jones spent years accusing family members of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting victims of being actors in a hoax and arguing that their children were still alive.

According to an article published by the New York Times, Jones said,

“My gut is, with the timing and everything that happened, this is staged.”

“It’s as phony as a $3 bill.”

Eventually, Sandy Hook families settled Jones on a minimum of $85 million over the next ten years as a result of the defamation case, one of the limits of free speech. But the money doesn’t override the pain and suffering Jones inflicted on the already vulnerable families. The damage is still there. It doesn’t just disappear.

So what now?

That right there has to be one of the most difficult questions for our generation to answer. Earlier this month, I planned to write an op-ed on where the federal government should draw the line on free speech. But I quickly realized that it would be one insanely large feat, and, while I don’t like to call things impossible, that task is arguably as close to impossible as you can get. Because free speech isn’t something you can easily govern. It’s a societal issue.

Realistically, I think it starts with the complete acknowledgement of the variety of people that all share this country and call it home. We’ve got about every ethnicity one can imagine, people of all different socio-economic backgrounds, people who align heavily with a certain political party, people who devote their lives to their religion, even those who don’t identify as a human being.

While we all may feel certain ways about certain groups, that doesn’t give anyone the right to deliberately attack someone because of their identity. And it also doesn’t give anyone the right to think that their group is superior over everyone else’s. It’s not better to be straight. But it’s also not better to be gay.

At the end of the day, everyone should treat everyone with respect. Respect costs nothing. This is a critical distinction — it’s not about correctly interpreting the rights or law of freedom of speech, but rather about having the social awareness and morality to keep your mouth shut when your opinion is harmful to others’ identities. And maybe soon, people will stop feeling the constant need to defend themselves with free speech as their shield. That’s my American dream.

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About the Contributors
Sydney Chan
Sydney Chan, Editor-in-Chief

Sydney Chan is an Editor-in-Chief for The Tower dedicated to discovering unique stories and bringing them to life through her pieces. She especially loves writing op-eds, covering the latest sports news, and publishing food reviews through her column, "Sydney's Suggestions." From dining at a great sushi restaurant, to watching her beloved Chicago Cubs play, to competing in Speech and Debate tournaments and Model UN conferences, to blasting 2Pac and SZA in the car, she's passionate about experiencing life to the fullest and aspires to lead The Tower with a similar aura, alongside the support of the publication's amazing team. Sydney is looking forward to another great year with The Tower and can't wait to share more beautiful pieces with the community.

Lisa Pan
Lisa Pan, Assistant Graphics Editor
Lisa is in her second year of The Tower as a sophomore and an Assistant Graphics Editor. She loves writing articles, whether fun or serious, mainly about performing arts and entertainment recommendations. When she’s not at school or working in Los Angeles as a professional actress-singer-model, she spends her time writing novels and songs in addition to news articles somewhere in the library. And you better believe she’ll have a Harry Potter book in her backpack, an iced latte in her hand, and a smile on her face every day at school. If you ever see her around campus, feel free to stop and say hello!

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