American Freedom of Speech On a Downward Spiral?

Freedom of speech, a constitutional freedom that is challenged during political and social turmoil, and war. Photo credit: Insight Media and Events/American Muslim History
Freedom of speech, a constitutional freedom that is challenged during political and social turmoil, and war. Photo credit: Insight Media and Events/American Muslim History

On November 14, Harvard University faculty released a statement in support of academic freedom. The statement is a response to their donors and alumni demanding the silencing of students, faculty, and staff “critical of the actions of the state of Israel.” 

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances.

Freedom of speech is most exercised during times of political and social turmoil, and war. Communities, organizations, universities and individuals raise their voices along with the media under this constitutional right. 

Yet, there are entities that openly challenge this foundational freedom.

During the early weeks of October, after Hamas launched an attack on Israel, Americans from many sectors of society, including universities, who were critical of the brutal Israeli violence, and indiscriminate killings of non-combatants being perpetrated against the people of Gaza have been and continue to be publicly attacked by institutions and the media for taking advantage of the First Amendment – freedom of speech. Those who are critical of  the terrorism and genocide happening in Gaza, are being vehemently condemned, denying them their Constitutional right.

For the Harvard students, reprisals for exercising their freedom of speech took shape as verbal condemnation and punishment.  Around the country, financial support has been withdrawn from institutions of higher learning for what is claimed to be anti-Israeli verbiage from their student bodies. Job offers have been rescinded by law firms like Davis-Polk, which according to their website, has said, “The views expressed in certain of the statements signed by law school student organizations in recent days are in direct contravention of our firm’s value system…”.  Winston & Strawn, a Chicago-based law firm, echoed the same sentiments, rescinding an offer to a prospective law school graduate.  

Columbia University suspended the chapters of National Students for Justice in Palestine, SJP, and Jewish Voices for Peace, and with universities across the United States, are censuring students because of their opposition to the Israeli war on Gaza. Republican Florida Gov. DeSantis, in consultation with the Chancellor of the State University Systems of Florida, Ray Rodrigus, issued a memorandum to ban National Students for Justice in Palestine from campuses. He went as far as saying the SJP “supports terrorism”. 

Katie Halper, a U.S. podcast host, said she was fired from her role at The Hill TV for calling Israel an apartheid state.

Employees across the country have also expressed fear and concern about speaking out against the terrorism and genocide happening in Gaza. A prominent editor has faced backlash for a pro-Palestine speech. A sports writer for a leading team lost his job for publicly expressing his solidarity with Palestine.  

The Washington Post on October 22 wrote regarding an airline pilot and social media activist in the United States who have lost their jobs, and others who have faced disciplinary actions or backlash for criticizing Israel.

The U.S.-based civil rights organization Palestine Legal, along with other civil and legal rights groups have raised concerns over the anti- Constitution wave sweeping the country, attacking the freedoms of pro-Palestine partisans, from harassment to job termination.

By El Hajjah Anisa and M. Shoaib Qadri