Tag Archives: Government

Speech Codes: Are They a Scourge or a Savior to Free Speech?

Many people know the First Amendment: the right to expression, the right to peacefully assemble, freedom of the press, the right to petition the government, etcetera. However, not many people know where the boundaries of these rights lie. People push these boundaries all the time and right now college campuses are but one example. Administrators at colleges are attempting to enforce speech codes. Yet, does enforcing speech codes violate the right to free expression described in the First Amendment? How far can speech codes go before the contradict the rights to free expression and peaceful protesting described in the First Amendment?

There are many ways speech codes could be enforced. But depending on how they are applied, they could break the First Amendment. A few forms of expression, specifically in regards to free speech, that are not protected by the First Amendment are slander or libel, fighting words, and obscenity. This means that someone can not go in front of a crowd and defame, insult, threaten, or say anything that may be considered hate speech to someone without consequences. One example of hate speech can be seen in a video of Milo Yiannopoulous at UW Milwaukee. In this video, he verbally attacked and degraded a transgender student. They still were spoken with no point other than to make fun of a subject and way of life that Yiannopoulous did not agree with. Another example of hate speech and fighting words is threats. As stated by Ben Shapiro, some people “greeted the birth of [his] second child by calling for [him, his] wife, and two children to be thrown into a gas chamber”. There was no purpose to this statement other than to express a disagreement with his religion. Under the First Amendment, hate speech is not something you can say without consequences. Speech Codes cannot be used to prevent speakers with controversial opinions from speaking. They cannot prevent people from peacefully disagreeing and debating about topics. However, speech codes can apply consequences if that speech becomes hateful or slanderous since that speech would no longer be protected under the First Amendment.

Some Speech Codes are also attempting to limit the student’s right to peacefully protest a speaker. The First Amendment specifically says “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble”. To restrict the right to peacefully assemble is a direct violation of the First Amendment. Yet, as seen on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education website, also known as FIRE, some college campuses are restricting the student’s rights to peacefully assemble and protest on the grounds that they are disrupting the speaker’s right to freedom of speech. Furthermore, the Wisconsin Campus Free Speech Act states that “protests and demonstrations that interfere with the expressive rights of others are subject to sanction”. There must be a line drawn as to what qualifies as disruptive and interfering demonstrations. The line is whether or not there is any form of violence or hate speech. If a protester simply said the speaker was wrong, held signs, and argued about right versus wrong, nothing can be done about it because they are protesting peacefully, as the First Amendment says they can. However, if a protestor started doing damage or cursing out the speaker, then they would have to face consequences. Recently at UC Berkeley, protesters became very violent at a speech by Yiannopoulous and had to be escorted off the premises. UC Berkeley encompasses what a protest that is not protected by the First Amendment is, and what Speech Codes can restrict.

In the end, Speech codes can be useful to make speeches more peaceful and clearly define punishments for breaking that peace, however, they must still subject to the First Amendment.

Sources:

EBSCO: The New Battle Over Campus Free Speech

Milo Yiannopoulos verbally attacks a transgender student (1:30-3:05)

The Atlantic: The Glaring Evidence That Free Speech Is Threatened on Campus

Wisconsin Campus Free Speech Act

A few examples of Hate Speech against Ben Shapiro

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)

UC Berkeley

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Net Neutrality-The First Amendment Issue of Our Time

Net neutrality has been around since the internet took off. It says that internet service providers cannot slow down certain websites. This is so that they don’t slow down certain to discourage traffic on that site, but it has become an increasingly hot issue over the past few years. Some people believe that everyone should have equal access to the web and that companies that provide internet services are simply there to transfer information without bias. The big media companies, however, believe that since they engage in and transmit speech, that this is a violation of the first amendment.

Verizon in particular have voiced that they think it violates the first amendment by stripping these ISP’s of control over the transmission of speech on their networks. Other internet service providers also agree that net neutrality imposes dramatic new restrictions and that the government seeks to control all aspects of broadband internet access service.

Recently, the organization that regulates net neutrality has proposed new rules that permit a fast lane for content providers that are willing and able to pay for it. Many people believe that if the court allows this new rule, that broadband companies will shut off access to web sites and ideas they don’t like, and it will funnel consumers instead to the sites and ideas that are favorable to corporate interests. This, they think, risks the loss of free flow and exchange of ideas that is central to democracy.

Confederate Flags Are Banned From Schools

Defenders of the Confederate flags demands that it symbolizes the heritage, not hate. Many other Americans see it as an emblem of white supremacy. Freedom of speech is one of the most important facets of our democracy, we as individuals wear these symbols to protest a school policy that prohibits them. So should students be allowed to wear Confederate symbols at school, or should the school limit the freedom of speech? A peaceful student who attended at a Virginia High School demonstrated his view with confederacy, which ended with school administrators suspending twenty three students for wearing clothing with the Confederate flag. According to school officials, other students, and parents, this violated the school’s dress code.

The other big issue is that Students are banned from wearing any clothing that could possibly reflect negatively on someone due to their race, which specifies that any clothing with Confederate symbols would fall into that category. Based on the school’s recent experiences with displays of the Confederate flag, it’s likely to disrupt schoolwork, by exacerbating racial hostilities leading to fights and similar disruptions. Speeches will lead to violent attacks on the speaker, unless an outright riot is looming. School administrators should be free to prevent substantial risks of material disruption whatever the disruptive mechanism might be.

 

Tags: Press, Confederacy, Confederate Flag, Public, Freedom, Controversial

 

Works Cited:

 

Board, T. (2017). Should students be allowed to wear Confederate flag clothing?. latimes.com. Retrieved 20 February 2017, from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-flag-20150820-story.html

Volokh, E. & Volokh, E. (2017). Opinion | The Confederate flag, the First Amendment and public schools. Washington Post. Retrieved 20 February 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/09/21/the-confederate-flag-the-first-amendment-and-public-schools/?utm_term=.b27201551dd5

Expanded Rights for All Government Employees

Topic: Free speech rights of people employed by federal, state, and local government.

 

Essential Question: Should employers be able to fire or demote employees because of their political views?

 

There are around 22 million people that work for federal, state, and local government. All of them have limited 1st amendment rights. This focuses on freedom of speech. Recently there has been a breakthrough in the move towards equal protection under the 1st amendment for employees of government. In the Washington Post they explain the few ways that employees are protected. They say, “1. the speech is on a matter of public concern 2. the speech is not said by the employee as part of the employee’s job duties, Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), and 3. the damage caused by the speech to the efficiency of the government agency’s operation does not outweigh the value of the speech to the employee and the public (the so-called Pickering balance). Connick v. Myers (1983) (p. 567).”       

In an article in the LA Times, the writer David G. Savage, explained the Supreme Court’s decision, “the Supreme Court has strengthened the rights of the nation’s 22 million public employees to protect them against being demoted or fired for supporting the wrong political candidate in the eyes of their supervisors.” This was an important decision that gives more protection to the employees. One of the more notable cases on this subject was Heffernan vs. City of Paterson. In this case a police detective was demoted because he was seen carrying a sign that opposed the mayor. The police chief strongly supported the current mayor. What happened was that the detective was delivering the sign to his mother. The lawsuit was filed in 2005 and finally reached the Supreme court in 2016. In an article from the New Yorker they talk about the decisions that were made in court. The article says, “The trial judge ruled that because Heffernan didn’t mean to get involved in the campaign, he hadn’t exercised any First amendment right, so he couldn’t bring a First Amendment claim.” Eventually the case made its way to the Supreme Court and the court ended up ruling in favor of Heffernan. My personal stance would be that employers should not be able to fire employees just because of their political beliefs whether they make them public or not.