Naturally, many negative connotations come along with the term “free-speech zone. ” The wording alone automatically insinuates that free speech should not be allowed everywhere, which is hardly the true intention of the idea. Sometimes the right of free speech is taken advantage of; such as in certain rallies and protests, where disruptive noise, violence, and destruction often occurs. Universities hold a responsibility to their students of providing a reasonably safe and undisruptive environment to learn and excel in.
Universities are not creating “free-speech zones” to limit free speech, but rather to maintain a secure atmosphere that is conducive to concentration and higher learning. Universities should be able to maintain a certain level of safety on campus in whatever way they choose. “The University reserves the right to relocate or cancel the activity due to disruption from excessive noise levels, traffic entanglement, or if the safety of individuals is in question” (West Virginia University’s Student Handbook 91).
They are not undermining the right of free speech that we as Americans legally hold, but are creating an appropriate means for demonstrators to voice their opinions without causing unnecessary disruption and chaos in inappropriate places on campus. An issue I do have with this idea of a “free-speech zone” is that there isn’t a clear definition of when or where these zones should be used. Who is to say whether or not the voicing of a certain opinion or idea requires the use of a “free-speech zone”? If what constitutes the use of a “free-speech zone” was better defined then the use of such “zones” could be more affective and appropriate.
As stated by Robert J. Scott, protest zones have been used at many political conventions and other major events. “Protest zones can be reasonable restrictions that allow free-speech rights to be expressed while decreasing safety concerns and preventing undue disruption” (Scott 92). With the history of violence and destruction that is associated with protests, it is only natural that certain precautions be taken to prevent such problems. It is too vague to say the free expression of views or opinions may not “disrupt the normal function of the university,” as stated in the West Virginia University’s student handbook.
Who decides what the “normal function” truly is, or when it is being “disrupted? ” If a university decides to establish the use of “free-speech zones” then they should be able to provide a clear and concise description of when, and for what purpose, these “zones” should be used. One of a universities top priorities is to make their campus as safe and secure as possible, and if “free-speech zones” or “protest zones” are what they feel are necessary to maintain that security then they should be able to enforce them.
The problem really comes down to whether or not these “zones” are used appropriately. If used extensively, and at levels that are unnecessary for the safety of students, then human rights issues could easily come into play. But if used in a smart way, such as for larger demonstrations of freedom of speech, like protests and rallies, then they could be helpful in preventing destruction and/or distraction on university campuses. “Requiring those expressing dissent to obey the law while doing so does not constitute repression” (Scott 92).