On April 18, the College Republicans in partnership with the Patriot Initiative presented a forum titled “Free Speech or Safe Space.” The panelists for the event included Josh Moore, former New Hampshire state representative and founder of the Patriot Initiative, and well as Nick Isgro, the current mayor of Waterville, Maine. It was moderated by College Republicans President Charlie Honkonen.
The Patriot Initiative, according to its website, is a “new developing organization whose vision it is to inspire ardent patriots to rise up and restore their culture and government through education, communication and activation.”
The goal of the forum was to discuss free speech in America and how it has evolved with changes in culture. Moore described the ways in which people currently approach political discussions with accusations and name calling, which ruins the chance for civil conversation.
The goal, he said, should be to shift our culture to one which welcomes differing opinions into the conversation rather than shut them down.
Isgro agreed with this notion. Having grown up in a household that openly and frequently discussed and debated religion and politics, he is often surprised that some people take some discussions personally. He also pointed out the ways in which he feels some people, specifically the media, try to use speech to demonize others.
Isgro shared a personal story of how he faced a recall vote for a three-word tweet he shared. He explained the key to protecting one’s right to free speech is to not back down, and by sticking to what was said, one can keep the conversation going.
Isgro has been criticized in the media for tweets suggesting a link between immigrants, their vaccination rates and rises in diseases, claims which were refuted by state and federal health officials.
“Apologizing for your beliefs hinders conversation about them,” Isgro explained.
Moore added on that, explaining how Americans’ understanding of the first amendment is being redefined in our culture, especially when it comes to hate speech. He believes that we as a society often forget that hate speech is not only allowed but protected by the first amendment.
“People are allowed to be mean,” Moore stated. “And people are allowed to have hate speech.”
Both panelists touched on the idea that often in today’s society people are quick to define anything that does not align with their personal beliefs as hate speech.
Opening the floor to questions showed that those in attendance were from all across the political spectrum, from people who were self-proclaimed socialists to independents and conservatives.
One member of the audience asked a question about the role of false narratives being used as distractions from other news in the media. Both panelists expressed the need to not only take responsibility to spread the truth and hold media accountable but to also be willing to push back on ideas that are being spread.
Another question that garnered a lot of discussion was how to differentiate or draw the line between name-calling and using a title to describe someone?
In response, Isgro suggested that because of free speech, individuals have the right to choose their words about other people and it is not anyone’s responsibility to make them stop.
The speakers made a point to encourage attendees to consider their constitutional right to unapologetically express their beliefs.
“I am the optimist, I believe in all of you, regardless of if we only agree 50 percent of the time. That’s ok, we can come to the table to have a discussion because I believe in this generation,” Moore said in his closing remarks.