Is hate speech free speech?
Some college students across the Unites States have sparked debate about free speech on campuses. While some think that all speech is free, others think there are limits to what one can say.
May 17, 2017
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.”
Free speech should have no limits
Although most people generally support free speech, there is controversy over what exactly free speech means, and to what extent it should be granted. While some advocate limiting free expression on college campuses, this should not occur because students have a right to express themselves, no matter how unpopular their opinions might be.
Recently, the cancellation of speeches by conservatives Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos at University of California, Berkeley received national attention. Both of their scheduled appearances were cancelled due to violent protests by students. As a result, the Berkeley College Republicans student group filed a lawsuit against the university.
While Coulter holds some objectionable ideals, UC Berkeley has the responsibility as a university to expose their students to controversial opinions and allow them to make judgements for themselves.
It is definitely disgusting to see racism, sexism and religious intolerance, however, as long as no threats or harm is caused, the offenders have the right to say what they are saying. A student’s physical safety should be a major priority on campus, but radical opinions do not impact safety.
Even if someone has hateful views, if they are expressed peacefully, there should be no limits on their right to speak. When faced with disagreeable opinions, students should learn to be open to discuss opinions different than their own. The truth of the matter is that, no matter what is said, there will always be someone who will consider it offensive. To protect everyone’s rights, there should be no consequences for those expressing their views.
Attempting to protect college students from being offended only makes them less prepared to deal with the real world. College is a time for students to broaden their horizon, be exposed to new perspectives and learn how to navigate the real world. To deal with opposing views simply by creating a situation in which controversy is avoided causes an undesirable amount of closed-mindedness in students and defeats the point of a college education.
The goal of a college campus should be to create an environment in which students feel safe to express their views and are open to others’ perspectives. While this may seem too idealistic, it is a reasonable and worthy goal for which to strive, but placing a limit on free speech would not be helpful in pursuing this goal.