The first amendment is one of the most important and debated facets of our democracy. It allows us to express our thoughts and feelings in different forms including the right to freedom of expression, speech, assembly, and petition. Despite that all of these are protected under the law there a lot of grey areas that create controversy. Recently there has been debate over whether or not universities should be allow to limit students’ rights to free speech. Many students feel like their rights are being stripped away from them in a place where they are supposed to be encouraged to embrace their ideals and independence. With new laws being put in place, allowing universities to restrict rights protected under the first amendment, there is more controversy than ever.
On October 29th of 2016 a fan at University of Wisconsin-vs.-Nebraska game wore an Obama costume with a noose tied around its neck. The fan was asked to remove the offensive parts of the costume and agreed. The debate comes into play if the man had not complied with the university’s request. Would they have had the right to further pursue the issue? Although the costume was extremely offensive and could be considered violent and racist, the man was technically exercising his right to freedom of expression. He was not making any threats nor putting anyone in danger. Just because the costume is deemed offensive does not mean it is violating the rights protected under the first amendment. In another case, the University of Missouri expelled a student who published an article in an underground newspaper that contained offensive language. When the case was brought to court it was ruled, “the mere dissemination of ideas-no matter how offensive to good taste- on a state university campus may not be shut off in the same alone of ‘conventions of decency'”.
Despite the offensive and racist nature of the fan’s costume, it is protected under the first amendment and he is allowed to wear it. An important thing to remember when it comes to cases like this is that they are all different and need to be handled that way. Universities need to keep in mind that their institutions are a crucial place for students to express themselves and their belief without restrict by what is deemed offensive.
Nowicki, Jenn. “Can Universities Restrict Free Speech On Campus?” Generation Progress. N.p., 15 Mar. 2013. Web. 21 Feb. 2017.
“State of the Law: Speech Codes.” FIRE. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2017.