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Speech is free: Sileo response

Dear Mr. Ryan Born,

As much as I would like to say that I appreciated reading your article, one of my backwards conservative beliefs passed down to me through tradition prohibits me from doing so — “I cannot tell a lie.”


Now first, I must urge — no, I must beg — you not to “safely ignore” me as I attempt to exercise my right to free speech. Because if only a “poor child,” like yourself, would just listen to me for but a moment, then perhaps, just perhaps, you would see the light.

With that out of the way, I would like to first address the claim that when conservatives appeal to “free speech,” they appeal to a “right that does not exist.” I understand that it can be hard to see where this argument of “free speech” comes from (especially if you spend most of your time looking in Chairman Mao’s little red book).

However, if you look very closely, you might be able to find that it does, in fact, exist. After years of personal research, I was able to find some documents that might uphold this “conservative” notion.

First, there is this obscure old text called the Bill of Rights that includes something along the lines of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Of course, that only applies to Congress (plus, it was written before 1847, so you likely see little value in it), but I have a hunch that those “rights” might be considered important to society as a whole for some reason or another.

With that in mind, as much as it pained me, I began to search for a modern source that might link the idea to the present day. After an incredibly exhaustive search (and a short trip down to my mailbox in Frist Campus Center), I found the 2017 edition Princeton University's “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities.” As if through an act of Providence, the wind blew it open to Section 1.1.3: Statement on Freedom of Expression: “Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible attitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.” What great luck on my part!

Moving on. I am glad that you acknowledged that conservatives are ready and open to debate their opinions. I am also glad to hear that “conservative ideas are still valuable in moderation.” I wish that I could return the compliments.


Yet when you said that you are “arguing against [conservatives’] right to be heard and accepted,” well, as Hillary Clinton put it, “that hurts my feelings.”

You claim to champion the pluralistic world of dialogue and discussion of ideas, while neglecting the very fact that free speech is one of the key vehicles in achieving that ideal. You can protest as much as you would like (I even have a red towel made in China that you could borrow), but when you so easily and generally denounce conservatism on campus, calling for disinviting speakers and ignoring arguments completely, the only thing that rings true is the echo chamber.

Maybe to your point there is an exception to be made when dealing with those “ultra-conservative factions” on campus, like the Princeton United Black Shirts and the National Socialist Princeton Workers Party. Although they have not been all that active this semester, now that I think about it.

If Princeton Open Campus Coalition, a coalition of members from across the political spectrum, the Cliosophic Society, and College Republicans are your ideas of reactionary groups, then I would encourage you to further evaluate and reshape your argument.

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To cap it off, I will try to empathize with some of your own logic. If your argument were strong, it would be convincing, and if it were convincing, I would not be in political opposition to it, and if I were not in political opposition, I would not be writing this response. Yet here we are.


Your classmate,

Nicholas G. Sileo ’20

Nicholas Sileo is a sophomore from Annapolis, Md. He can be reached at