Everyone who is not currently in their first year of studying at the University of Edinburgh will have probably seen the members of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints walking around the central campus. Until recently, they were trying to recruit new members by preaching their ideologies and striking up conversations with passing students. The main issue with the members of the church was that they only reluctantly accepted ‘no’ for an answer after being repeatedly rejected. Furthermore, they bombarded students who gave them their phone number with numerous invitations to church. Now, however, the Members of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints have been banned from preaching on the university campus.
Surely all it does is limit free speech on campus? Setting aside the annoying manner in which the preaching was done, what this ban seems to say is that everyone who does not agree with the university’s opinion is not welcome on campus. You do not have to agree with the message that the Church of the Latter-Day Saints is spreading, but you still have to allow their members to share their point of view.
A similar debate occurred in 2015, when the University of Edinburgh cancelled a talk by the former leader of the far-right English Defence League, Tommy Robinson. The reason behind it being a speech which Robinson gave at an anti-Islam rally in Germany, in which he directed hateful comments towards immigrants. The cancellation of Robinson’s talk generated a lot of anger on the internet as there were several people who wanted to hear what he had to say. This makes sense because they probably share his opinion and according to free speech, everyone can express their beliefs without being censored. However, this situation differs from that of the recent ban of Members of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints.
The difference is that Robinson’s speech at the rally in Germany is an example of hate speech, which is never okay. For example, transphobic or racist remarks are not acceptable and people who are actively spreading hate towards certain communities should not be given a platform. Fundamentally, everyone is entitled to an opinion and should be able to express it, unless it is hateful or done in an aggressive or disrespectful way.
According to this principle the situation surrounding the ban of the Members of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints on campus is dissimilar and the university should have taken a different approach. Instead of banning them from voicing their beliefs they could have made their point of view clear by issuing a statement relaying that their views do not line up with the church’s. This would have clarified their position without completely shutting down the other side.
Another reason why the ban was a bad move is that studying at a university goes hand in hand with freedom of expression. You learn how to express your opinions in a respectful manner and have productive discussions with people who have different points of view. Therefore, we should all know that a ban does not help the conversation and instead limits it.
Instead, it is important to allow free speech on campus that is not hateful or disrespectful as it will help spark discussions about important topics that everyone from all possible points of view can be a part of.
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