I thought a lot about free speech today. Not because I had something controversial to say, but because it was First Amendment Day.
Once a year, UNC celebrates First Amendment Day to honor and raise awareness about the First Amendment and how it applies to students at a public university.
Today was my first time celebrating First Amendment Day, and to be completely honest, I had never given it a ton of thought until I started taking media law. Let’s be real- most students don’t think about the First Amendment every time they send out a tweet or pass out flyers on campus. These activities have become so routine to us that we don’t even consider the fact that there is a law protecting our rights of expression.
My media law professor, Cathy Packer, is a First Amendment enthusiast, and her passion for the law was contagious. Me and my j-school friends wore our free First Amendment t-shirts all day. We went to see the keynote speaker at 7 p.m., and none of us knew what to expect.
There was a DJ. There was a comedy routine. There was a dancing media law professor.
The speaker talked about universities across the nation who have restricted the First Amendment rights of students. These universities punished students for reading controversial books, passing out copies of the constitution and writing on a “free speech wall.” Some universities even had “free speech zones”- designated spots on campus where students could exercise their First Amendment rights.
But isn’t all of America a “free speech zone?!”
Me and my friends exchanged glances throughout the speech as if to say to each other, “can you believe that?”
I think we all underestimated how much the First Amendment protects our expression. I couldn’t imagine college without crazy, sometimes offensive means of expression decorating campus.
The First Amendment becomes more important every day, especially with the exponential growth of social media.