Tag Archives: libel

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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Satire or Fake News? Which Would You Choose?

Satire is the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. We see satire all around the media today from The Onion to TV shows like John Oliver and The Daily Show. These are primarily examples of satire, but what makes these satire instead of fake news? Fake news is one of the biggest things on social media nowadays. Fake news is false information that refers to propaganda and false information under the guise of being authentic news. The first amendment states, under freedom of speech, that the government must respect citizens rights to express themselves, therefore satire is protected by the first amendment. The main reason for media is for people to be informed on what is going on in the world. Is fake news protected by the first amendment or is it an example of slander/libel? Many past presidential elections have been won because of fake news. For example, many Republican websites posted claims about Hillary Clinton this past election helping boost Trumps support.

The question is: What is the difference between fake news and satire, and what separates the two? Satire is used for a corrective purpose to point out why things are wrong. One of satires purposes is to inform viewers on what is actually going on in today’s world. When comparing satire and fake news, the title of fake news says it all.  Fake news is fake with no purpose to inform whatsoever. In a study by the website “techdirt” called, Yet Another Study Shows US Satire Programs Do A Better Job Informing Viewers Than Actual News Outlets., many surveys have been done showing that satire news has better informed people than regular news stations like Fox and CNN. Instead of choosing the left or the right side of politics, satire shows all sides of every story.  Fake news is false information that misinforms many people and can be very dangerous.

Citizens SLAPPed by Big Businesses

 

The United States Constitution grants every person the right to petition the government along with free speech. Yet, every year, thousands of individuals, community groups, and organizations are sued for exercising these constitutional rights. These lawsuits are known as “SLAPPs” (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation).  SLAPPs are often declared by corporations, real estate developers, or government officials against individuals or organizations who oppose them on public issues. Usually, SLAPPs are based on ordinary civil tort claims such as libel or slander, malicious prosecution, abuse of power, conspiracy, and interference with prospective economic advantage.

The difference between an ordinary defamation lawsuit and a SLAPP suit is that the plaintiff in a SLAPP suit does not generally plan to actually win their lawsuit. Instead, SLAPP suits are intended to intimidate, and discourage activists from exercising their right to free speech and protest. The main purpose of a SLAPP case is to decrease public debate on specific issues. Defending a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and therefore diverts the defendant’s attention away from the public issue and/or forces them to discontinue the case. Furthermore, a SLAPP also sends a threatening message to others that they too can just as easily be sued if they speak up.

In one example of a SLAPP case was in Dallas, a $1 million lawsuit filed by a pet-sitting company against a couple who wrote a one-star review on Yelp. Prestigious Pets and its owner filed the lawsuit against the couple, accusing them of defamation, business disparagement and a breach of contract after the couple posted the negative review. The case was eventually dismissed due to an Anti-SLAPP law that allows judges to dismiss frivolous suits filed against people who speak out about a matter of public concern. This is just one illustration of how businesses or dominant people can use their power to try to keep citizens from exercising their first amendment rights if it could tarnish their image.

I believe that SLAPP cases violate the first amendment because big businesses are prohibiting the public from exercising their right to free speech by suing them and using the power of the court system along with their own money to silence public opinions. SLAPP cases are just a way for people or corporations to hold their own interests above public interest and protect themselves from any criticism or opposition. Freedom of speech is important because it allows people to form and share opinions that may be different from others. Because SLAPP suits limit the first amendment, I believe that they should be outlawed or at least highly regulated in order to prevent businesses from punishing citizens simply because they exercise their first amendment rights to disagree or speak out against them.

 

“Examples Of SLAPP Suits In Texas”. Slapped In Texas, 2011, https://slappedintexas.com/examples-of-slapp-suits-in-texas/.

 

“Jarrow Formulas, Inc. V. Lamarche”. California Anti-SLAPP Project, 2011, https://www.casp.net/california-anti-slapp-first-amendment-law-resources/caselaw/california-supreme-court/jarrow-formulas-inc-v-lamarche/.

 

“SLAPP Suits | Civil Liberties Defense Center”. Cldc.Org, 2017, https://cldc.org/organizing-resources/slapp-suits/.

 

Hate Speech covered by the First Amendment?

When considering the topic of Hate Speech one must look to the Supreme Court.  They have dealt with issues of Hate Speech both directly and indirectly. From Miller v. California where Obscenity was defined based on the community standards.   To the Beauharnais v. Illinois,  where Joseph Beauharnais expressed his views on the, “harassment and invasion of white people” his leaflets were deemed libel, this is one of the limits of the First Amendment.  Hate Speech has even been examined with a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio.  The court said that Ohio’s criminal syndicalism law violated the right to free speech.  These court cases asked the question is there a difference between Hate Speech and Free Speech, and should crimes be prosecuted/punished differently?  In other words should the motivation of a crime be examined to  determine the punishment.

Hate Speech itself is not covered directly under the First Amendment.  Free speech is the right for someone to express themselves.  However, there are still limits that must be considered like Slander/ Libel, Clear and present danger, fighting words, and obscenity.  The First Amendment is no longer protecting you.  Hate Speech is indirectly protected under the First Amendment, until it crosses one of the limits.  The first Amendment gives of great freedom, but Hate Speech a price.

 

Work Cited:

“R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul.” Oyez, https://www.oyez.org/cases/1991/90-7675. Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.

“Miller v. California.” Oyez, https://www.oyez.org/cases/1971/70-73. Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.

“Beauharnais v. Illinois.” Oyez, https://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1955/343us250. Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.

“Brandenburg v. Ohio.” Oyez, https://www.oyez.org/cases/1968/492. Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.

Freedom of Speech: Crash Course Government and Politics #25. By Raoul Meyer. Prod. Stan Muller. Perf. Craig Benzine. YouTube. N.p., 31 July 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2017