Julia Montag: The physics of free speech

Newton’s third law of motion states every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It implies forces always exist in pairs. For example, if you attempt to push a car uphill in neutral, you can feel it pushing back against you with the same force in the opposite direction. Ever jump off a pool raft? I bet as you lurched forward, the raft recoiled backwards. Action, reaction.

President Donald Trump, along with the University of Michigan and several of its student organizations, seem to be overlooking this simple, axiomatic doctrine. Last week, the Trump administration joined national advocacy group Speech First in its lawsuit against the school’s bias response policy, claiming the rules wrongly supervise free speech and limit conservative student expression on campus.

One event that comes to mind occurred earlier this academic year when several U-M students slapped on the firetruck-red, infamous “Make America Great Again” hats, which I’ve come to understand as an unspecified invitation—a symbol that suggests, “Yes, I support Trump and I understand you may not, but I invite you to engage in a political debate, one in which neither of us will win because both of us have rigid, deep-rooted political and social views.” So these students squatted in the Diag, the sunny square of Central Campus that is used as a shortcut to most destinations, and expressed their right allocated in the First Amendment, the privilege of free speech.

They exuded their unspoken yet implicit political opinions, which were later clarified by New York Times writer Anemona Hartocollis to include “that abortion after 12 weeks is murder; that the welfare system is being abused; that there should be a border wall and that the wage gap between men and women is based on women’s choices, not discrimination.” It’s as if they did research on today’s most contentious debates and put on a hat to declare their positions on the matters; they sowed the seeds of controversy, sat back and waited for them to sprout.

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