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Protect Freedom of Speech at Georgetown University

This petition had 537 supporters


The modern university should be a rich marketplace of ideas that fosters a diversity of viewpoints and a free exchange of beliefs. Students should encounter opinions divergent from their own and make informed judgments that sharpen their understanding of the world.


Freedom of speech is key to achieving these high ideals to which universities strive. Now, more than ever, this essential freedom is under assault on college campuses, including Georgetown University. When Georgetown announced that Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson would be a 2016 commencement speaker, students almost immediately began organizing to shut him down. This is a dangerous attempt by students to silence speech.


While some of my peers will argue that shutting down Secretary Johnson constitutes solidarity with students who are undocumented and an effort to make them feel “more safe” at their graduation ceremony, the reality is that Georgetown’s potential decision to rescind the invitation would amount to nothing more than censorship. Censorship comes in many different forms, most maliciously when disguised with benevolent intentions.


I have friends who are undocumented, and I have great respect for the many challenges they have overcome to reach this moment in life. I realize that there is a very real, personal dynamic to this discussion. It is not just a theoretical debate about free speech. It has a real impact on the lives of my fellow Hoyas. However, the reality of the world is where our values are put to the true test. If we cannot defend our freedoms in the context of real events with real impacts, then do our freedoms truly exist?


Furthermore, the idea that Georgetown’s commencement speaker cannot or should not be a “controversial figure” is laughable and impossible. If there was a speaker who was not objectionable to a single audience member, then that person probably would not have much worth saying.


When Michael Bloomberg delivered Harvard’s 2014 Commencement Speech, he said, “Great universities must not become predictably partisan, and a liberal arts education must not be an education in the art of liberalism…Requiring scholars – and commencement speakers, for that matter – to conform to certain political standards undermines the whole purpose of a university.”


This is a time to reject the echo chambers and “safe spaces” that college students so frequently try to hide inside. This is a time to embrace the dangerous and dynamic world into which the senior class is about to graduate.


I hope Georgetown University has the strength of its convictions to uphold its invitation to Secretary Johnson.



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Reed Howard needs your help with “John J. DeGioia: Protect Freedom of Speech at Georgetown University”. Join Reed and 536 supporters today.