Think first, then protest

Though university students are often touted as some of the most tolerant individuals in society, recently students have proven that they aren’t always open to contentious discussions.

This past Tuesday, the University of Waterloo asked former Notre Dame law professor Charles Rice to speak at an annual speaker series — Pascal Lectures on Christianity. Rice is a Roman Catholic author and scholar whose views include strong stances against homosexuality and abortions — his opinions proved controversial among Waterloo students.

Student groups expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that Charles Rice was allowed to come to the Waterloo campus because they believed what he had to say would be considered hate speech.

It’s interesting that people, especially university students, are fervently in favour of free speech, but only when they like what’s being said.

In lieu of Rice’s arrival on campus, extra police were stationed outside the auditorium where he was speaking — it was to ensure that a protest didn’t break out, like one that happened when National Post reporter Christie Blatchford spoke at Waterloo in 2010. Blatchford visited the university to speak about her book Helpless: Caledonia’s Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy but students disrupted her talk and managed to shut it down.

On Tuesday night, after Rice left the university, student groups held a silent vigil to show Waterloo’s administration their disapproval of the choice of speaker for the event. While I’m completely in support of the freedom to protest, in this case I think it was unfounded.

The choice in speaker was very much related to the topic of the lectures — Christianity. Rice was chosen to speak at the event because he’s an authority on natural law, the subject of his prepared speech.

Even though students don’t agree with his personal opinions, they need to respect the fact that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, even when it’s not a popular one. The protesters had as much right to demonstrate as Charles Rice had to speak about his beliefs.

Disagreeing with someone’s opinions isn’t grounds for telling them to be quiet. If students staged a protest every time they disagreed with an opinion, then discourse would fail and universities would become a breeding ground for riots.

It’s most important to protect freedom of speech when it’s an opinion you disagree with —because those are the perspectives that add to your education.

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