The First Amendment principles of free speech have been under attack since the Amendment came into being. The very nature of speech gives rise to argument because it is a personal undertaking; something that belongs to the individual alone. An individual’s beliefs can not be judged, and speech is an expression of those beliefs. Thus, the question: Is it wrong to allow speech that strikes at the heart of an individual? The hatefulness of speech is a subjective matter that can not properly be defined by government and, therefore is an unreasonable restriction of first amendment rights.
The goal of the free speech doctrine is centered upon an ethical debate; that is, how much freedom should be given to citizens of a free society while still providing a protected environment in which to live? (Weinstein 11) The Constitution is very clear on the right to freedom of expression when it states that, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. ” However, the interpretation of the First Amendment by the Supreme Court in Schenck v. United States put the first real restriction on free speech when it imposed the qualification that speech could not give rise to a “clear and present danger” (Weinstein 17).
This first restriction led to the rule being broadened to such an extent that it caused suppression of unpopular political speech (Weinstein 19). The Supreme Court later narrowed the rule to outlaw any speech that tended to incite dangerous action. Once again, the rule was abused and often used to stifle minority speech, one of the very groups the Amendment was meant to protect. (Weinstein) So, the dilemma has continued and still rages, especially with regard to “hate” speech. There is no rational argument that hate is good.
Yet, when hate is embodied in open speech, is that speech itself the culprit or the speaker? What is hateful to one person may not be to another, so is it the proper thing to do to censor all speech that is interpreted as hateful by anyone? Most authorities agree that, “[h]ate speech includes the use of hurtful, biased expression; threats of violence based on sex, race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation; and offensive songs, jokes or events, such as fraternity slave auctions” (Miller, and Andsager).
Some of these forms of speech are indeed hurtful, even reprehensible, but at the same time they represent a fundamental truth of our society; individual ideas should not be censored because those in authority find them morally wrong or personally offensive (Weinstein 16). Those that would support a ban on hate speech raise the position that it is for the benefit of society as a whole that restrictions should be imposed. They rightfully point out that hate breeds hate and we, as a community, should take the responsibility of seeing that the spread of hateful beliefs is stopped.
Cortese states that, “[s]ociety’s mainstream culture, or a subculture, transmits the building blocks of hate speech to children as much at home as throughout the community” (3). While the goal of living in a society free of discrimination, hate and fear is an admirable one, it can not be achieved by curtailing our civil liberties. Neither can it be attained by smothering the best hope for change – the university and college campuses where traditionally the dramatic transformations of societal norms have always taken place.
Restrictive speech codes on college campuses have periodically surfaced, usually during times of civil unrest. However, in the late 1980’s there was an alarming number of universities implementing restrictive codes in some form or another. “The proliferation of restrictive campus speech codes was wholly unprecedented: never had there been such strong support for punishing offensive speech” (Walker 127). There was such a rise of discriminatory behavior on college campuses that the courts began applying cases outlawing a “hostile environment” for minorities to the Universities.
Even the courts realized, however, that campus speech codes could not be all inclusive and acknowledged that “[a]cademic freedom sometimes includes the discussion of controversial subjects such as gay marriage, evolution, or affirmative action” (Cortese 2). The very core of our democratic ideals is traced to the free exchange of opinions in our educational environments. If free expression of one’s thoughts can not be safely uttered inside the walls of universities, then we have given up the right chart our own futures; and the ideal society that we all strive will no longer exist.
Individual rights are the very essence of our democracy. To unreasonably restrict those rights defeats the its every purpose An ethical responsibility to treat everyone in our society with respect and tolerance most certainly exists, but that respect can not just be for the politically correct groups. It also has to be applied to all those who the majority of us despise in order for it to mean anything. Though `hate speech` is harsh and hurtful, it is protected by the First Amendment and therefore, should not be regulated by the government or college campuses.