Hate speech isn’t always free speech

All speech is indeed free speech. However, there is a time and place for everything, and free speech is no exception.

While it is necessary for college students to be exposed to a range of different ideas and opinions to better understand themselves, it is essential to draw a line between hate speech and free speech.

There is a thin line between expressing an opinion freely and offending, targeting or threatening a specific group of people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability or any other trait.

Free speech is the right to express one’s opinions publicly, and deeply offensive speech does not fall under this category. Neo Nazis walking around in any public space preaching their ideas does not help “expand students’ horizons” or expose them to the “real world.”

Universities have the right to limit radical or hateful speech; not putting a boundary on “free speech rights” allows for an environment where bigotry and discrimination are normalized.

A study by Gallup, the Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute found that 41 percent of African American students reported that they believed their college had “not gone far enough” to discourage hate speech. This shows that universities carry the responsibility to ensure all students’ comfort, not just those who want to speak “freely.”

University of California, Berkeley’s recent incident with alt-right conservatives Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos is a clear sign of free speech needing boundaries. Students there had already determined their definition of free speech, and when the boundaries were crossed, they took action that erupted into violence.

Though the speakers themselves may not directly call for violence, the atmosphere of hostility and malice that they bring can transfer onto their audience and like UC Berkeley experienced in February.

There is nothing wrong with voicing radical opinions. However, what is wrong is when those opinions lean toward bigotry and intolerance, which therefore, can make students, specifically minority students, feel uncomfortable in an environment supposedly safe and meant for all.

When an opinion has no logical backing or  substance and is purely discrimination, it needs to be recognized as just that, instead of simply passing it off as acceptable all in the name of “free speech.”