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Hate speech on college campuses

Racism, sexism and homophobia is growing on college campuses around the

country. In response, many universities have adopted policies that address bigotry by

placing restrictions on speech. The alternative to such restrictions, many administrators

argue, is to allow bigots to run rampant and to subject their targets to a loss of equal

educational opportunity. The power of a university to eliminate bias on campus

ultimately depends not on its ability to punish a racist speaker, but instead on the depth

of its commitment to the principles of equality and education. Many universities, under

pressure to respond to the concerns of those who are the objects of hate, have adopted

codes or policies prohibiting speech that offends any group based on race, gender,

ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

That's the wrong response, well-meaning or not. The First Amendment to the

United States Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content. Speech

codes adopted by government financed state colleges and universities amount to

government censorship, in violation of the Constitution. And the ACLU believes that

all campuses should adhere to First Amendment principles because academic freedom

is a bedrock of education in a free society. No social institution is better suited to fight

bigotry than the university. It can do so in its courses and perhaps most importantly

through the way it conducts itself as a community. We're not talking about choosing

between the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment. We're talking about

choosing between regulating speech and regulating action. Murder is illegal. Talking

about it isn't. Freedom of thought and expression is particularly important on the

college campuses. The educational forum is where individuals come together to

participate in a process of shared inquiry and where the success of that endeavor

depends on an atmosphere of openness, intellectual honesty and tolerance for the ideas

and opinions of others, even when hateful or offensive. Compromising free speech

ultimately threatens the rights of minorities. All too often, regulations on speech are

used to silence the very people they were designed to protect in the first place. As

Eleanor Holmes Norton has said: "It is technically impossible to write an anti-speech

code that cannot be twisted against speech nobody means to bar. Free speech rights

are indivisible. Restricting the speech of one group or individual jeopardizes

everyone's rights because the same laws or regulations used to silence bigots can be

used to silence you. Conversely, laws that defend free speech for bigots can be used to

defend the rights of civil rights workers, anti-war protesters, lesbian and gay activists

and others fighting for justice.

The U.S. Supreme Court did rule in 1942, in a case called Chaplinsky vs. New

Hampshire, that intimidating speech directed at a specific individual in a face-to-face

confrontation amounts to "fighting words," and that the person engaging in such

speech can be punished if "by their very utterance [the words] inflict injury or tend to

incite an immediate breach of the peace." If a white student stops a black student on

campus and utters a racial slur. In that one-on-one confrontation, which could easily

come to blows, the offending student could be disciplined under the "fighting words"

doctrine for racial harassment.

Banning expressions of hate does not make them go away. If we allow them to

be expressed and then each of us takes the individual responsibility to voice our

disgust, opposition, annoyance and why, then we will educate many others to why

certain ideas are abhorrent. Discussion is the best silencer because it reeducates not

just the perpetuator of hate, but those who are observing it

Source: Essay UK -

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