Are Free Speech And Hate Speech The Same?

Just this past October at a football game between the University of Wisconsin and Nebraska, a fan at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was spotted with a costume of the 44th president, Barack Obama, with a noose tied around its neck. Though the school wasn’t pleased and had the fan remove certain offensive parts from the costume, they stated it “was an exercise of the individual’s right to free speech.”. So this brings up the question, are hate speech and actions protected under the boundaries of the first amendment? The short answer is yes, but how far can it go? The first amendment states that speech that will incite violence is not protected under the Constitution. Sometimes hate speech won’t fall under this category, even though it may offend people or you may not agree with it. In an article that talks about the debate between hate speech and free speech it brings up the idea that hate acts but not speech may be regulated under the law. In an example from the article, a Minnesota boy burned a cross in an African American families lawn and charges were brought up on him by the family. He was prosecuted under a law in Minnesota that made it illegal to burn a symbol of a certain race or religion likely to incite resentment. This case later reached the Supreme Court, where the law was later determined unconstitutional and hindered the boy’s first amendment rights. The law focused on the meaning of the message and not his actions which is why it was found unconstitutional. He was, however, held criminally responsible for damaging property. There was another incident that happened on the campus of the University of Oregon. One of the professors at the university invited some students to a costume party. She was found wearing what a costume some found offensive though it was not her intention to be offensive. The school’s policy on this type of issue was that if something was found to cause enough of an uproar at the university it may result in suspension from the university for students and staff. The real dilemma of this story is if the university is in the right, pertaining to the first amendment, with its rules. The answer is the university is it’s own institution and can make it’s own rules even though some may push the boundary of the Constitution. The debate between hate and free speech had raged since the beginning of the United States, and it shows no sign of stopping. I believe, though I may not agree with it, that hate speech is constitutional and is protected by the first amendment. But we need to be watchful, to stop it when it crosses the boundaries  of the first amendment.   

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