Free Speech on College Campuses Universities are considering adopting speech codes that would put a ban on offensive, demeaning, and provoking speech. The developments of these speech codes are not necessary. Sheltering students from speech that might offend them is patronizing to say the least. Do college officials really believe the students are too weak to live with the Bill of Rights? The fact of the matter is that speech codes on college campuses are threatening students’ freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas and therefore have no place in higher education.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (Cornell. edu).
Michael Cooper, of the New York Times says, although the amendment is only a mere forty-five words, the Founding Fathers laid out what the fundamental rights that Americans are entitled to and understood that the great danger of democracy was the tyranny of the majority (8). Freedom of speech is essential, without it there is no freedom. Harvey A. Silverglate, a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, stated, there has been an ongoing argument about the difference between speech and conduct.
To some, “The amendment would seem to protect speech only—and not the various forms of conduct that can communicate a message” (23). States and government have been trying to make laws that the Bill of Rights covers speech only and not conduct, but the Supreme Court rules that “the amendment protects not just speech but ‘communication’” (Silverglate 23).
According to the article “Protecting the Free Exchange of Ideas in Higher Education”, all across America, the fundamental academic mission of educating students and serving the broader community on college campuses has always been, “a free exchange of ideas” (Campusspeech. org). The only way to challenge minds is to challenge the ideas through speech. It is through freedom of speech which creates new ideas that challenges students and faculty members to become critical thinkers and fulfill the functions of education so they can serve he broader community. The article also states that, “With both the so-called “intellectual diversity” bill and “academic bill of restrictions,” detractors of the free exchange of ideas on campus, namely the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and pundit/activist David Horowitz are trying to impose new restrictions on what can be taught and discussed in higher education, while bringing undue scrutiny over classroom content” (Campusspeech. org).
Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, mentioned that, “For several years, universities have been struggling with the problem of trying to reconcile the rights of free speech with the desire to avoid racial tension” (123). These restrictions are otherwise known as speech codes. When college administrators start controlling context and content of what can be freely said on campus, it often initiates protests by students, faculty, and staff. The article “Hate Crimes,” explains that these protests are in regard of the right of free speech.
Administrators claim that speech codes were developed not to restrict speech, but to protect the victims of offensive words made by others (Jost 2-3). To answer the questions of these protestors we must look into both sides of the argument as to whether speech codes infringe upon our free speech rights in the constitution or not. Famed attorney Alan Dershowitz goes on to explain, “Fair questions . . . need to be answered before anyone goes further down the dangerous road to selective censorship based on perceived offensiveness.
Clever people can always come up with distinctions that put their cases on the permitted side of the line and other people’s cases on the prohibited side of the line” (167). The Supreme Court has clearly ruled in favor of free speech (Bok 124). In 1969, a landmark decision made by the U. S. Supreme Court in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District ruled that students are permitted to have a right to express themselves. The 7-2 ruling encouraged the right of three students to wear black armbands to show their support for a Christmastime cease-fire in the Vietnam War.
Justice Abe Fortas, relating the majority opinion, said, “School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. . . . In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views” (qtd. In Jost, “Student Rights” 504). In another major ruling, in 1989, the Supreme Court defended the right to burn the American flag. The Court also added that this was an expression of disagreement with government policies and shall be protected by the amendment (ACLU. org). Silverglate explains the case of Cohen v.
California in 1971 as follows: In that case, an antiwar protester wore a jacket in the Los Angeles County Courthouse that used a vulgar profanity to express his objection to the draft. The State of California prosecuted the protestor for “maliciously and willfully disturbing the peace or quiet of any neighborhood or person…by…offensive conduct. ” The Court rejected California’s argument that it was merely regulating the protester’s conduct and noted that “the only ‘conduct’ which the State sought to punish is the fact of communication. Thus we deal with a conviction resting solely upon ‘speech’. (Silverglate 3-4) Although the courts have ruled that free speech encompasses symbolic speech, they also have agreed that some restrictions on speech are necessary. The categories of speech that are not protected by the first amendment are “defamation, child pornography, fighting words and speech that expresses a genuine threat to the safety of others” (Cooper 8-9). An example of fighting words would be “words that by the very act of being spoken tend to incite the individual to whom they are addressed to fight” (Silverglate 28). According to Silverglate speech has been defined as an expression.
It includes, “but is not limited to, what you wear, read, say, paint, perform, believe, protest, or even silently resist” (24). On the other side of the argument, college administrators have developed speech codes for the purpose to protect the victims of offensive words made by others and not to restrict speech. Speech codes are a quick fix to deeper problems. The terrorist attacks on New York City on September 11th have had a profound effect on college campuses regarding free speech. With the introduction of Homeland Security, hate speech has now been under attack by state and government entities.
The article “Hate Speech on Campus” states, “Many universities, under pressure to respond to the concerns of those who are the objects of hate, have adopted codes or policies prohibiting speech that offends any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation” (ACLU. org). Jost acknowledged that, there are over 300 universities and schools that have made policies for the cause of preventing homosexual, racial, ethnical, and religious harassment (“Hate Crimes” 2). Many of these schools added these policies in the 1980’s and 1990’s and they remained ever since (Silverglate 134).
The changing of times is causing a change in the courts. According to Negron, the school boards association counsel, “A pattern is developing that in terms of dangers that are serious and palpable, there is some duty and obligations [on the part of] the schools to do what they have to do to make the kids safe” (qtd. in Jost, “Student Rights” 520). Colleges and universities have developed speech codes to prevent hate speech. It is well known that hate speech invokes hate crimes. Jesse Larner of the “Dissent Magazine” stated, on October 28, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Sheppard and James Byrd Jr.
Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill passed by a landslide in both the Senate and the House. Basically the law increases penalties for crimes that are intended to individuals based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or nationalities (74). Also according to Larner, “hate crimes laws do set us up for hate speech laws. At present all of the model guides for hate crimes laws require an underlying crime-there is no suggestion that speech or thought alone should create legal liability” (78). It seems that we are only a small step away from unleashing the power of criminal liability on hate alone (78).
Civil Rights groups have been behind the speech code movement pushing their political correctness. These are certain political groups that want to enforce some form of speech code in order to control speech and ban any term or phrase that may be considered demeaning to any group in society. Americans seem all too willing to accept boundaries to freedom of speech. Controversial boundaries shift over time and the main question to ask yourself; where do you draw the line? According to Dershowitz, “the real problem is that offensiveness is often in the eyes and experiences of the beholder. He believes if speech that is offensive to African Americans is prohibited; then speech that is also offensive to whites, Jews, Muslims, atheists, gays, women, etc. , must also be prohibited (167). Bok states that, “One reason why the power of censorship is so dangerous is that it is extremely difficult to decide when a particular communication is offensive enough to warrant prohibition or to weigh the degree of offensiveness against the potential value of the communication” (125). The article “Can Free Speech Go Too Far” explained that the boundaries of free speech are not always as simple as black and white.
The question remains over where free speech begins and where it ends. This has been an ongoing political debate and the spotlight of a number of milestone legal cases. In 1977, a neo-Nazi group asked for permission to parade through Skokie, Illinois, where many Jews that survived Nazi Germany were residing. The town passed a law that public demonstration of hatred towards specific groups was outlawed. The neo-Nazi leader was not very pleased about this law and thought his constitutional rights have been violated. The public was also against the neo-Nazi group but the courts later ruled in 1978 in favor of the neo-Nazi group.
The courts are committed to protect speech, “even when it’s controversial or hateful” (Cooper 9). According to Clemmit, the liberal political party launched an attack to the academic freedom from inside colleges and universities. Universities and colleges can adopt speech codes, but Clemmit says “speech codes are harder to fight, because they are established in the name of social justice” (847). She also claims that the Supreme Court never ruled on college speech codes; But, when challenged in court, they generally have been struck down.
In a 1989 case, Doe v. University of Michigan, the federal court for the eastern district of Michigan invalidated a 1988 ban adopted after students threatened to sue over several racially motivated campus incidents, including distribution of fliers using virulently racist epithets and calling for open season on blacks. (847) Freedom of speech is a matter of great concern in our society. This most necessary constitutional liberty is constantly under attack by those who would like to restrict the rights of others, often for the most ridiculous of reasons.
When college administrators develop speech codes, the result is a restriction to our freedom of speech. We cannot pick and choose which part of the constitution we are going to protect. The Founding Fathers intended the entire document and not just pieces. Silverglate states, “it is useful to think of the First Amendment’s free speech clause as having two related sides” (66). The first deals with censorship; it prohibits the government from interfering with the rights of citizens to say what they believe or simply wish to say. The second side prohibits the government from forcing citizens to say something they do not believe.
It is this second side that the Supreme Court uses to deny the powers of government to establish officially approved beliefs or accepted beliefs. Silverglate further goes on and states, “To force citizen’s to state belief in something with which they differ is even more invasive than censoring expressions in which they believe, because compelled belief or utterance invades the heart and soul of the human being” (66). The ACLU believes that, “Codes that punish bigoted speech treat only the symptom: The problem itself is bigotry. ” College administrators may find the speech code’s attraction as a quick fix.
They suggest that to cure the problem, universities need to educate awareness about the history of bigotry and include an approach to the subject according to American and World history (ACLU. org). Issues of free speech and censorship are continually debated in the judicial system and the Supreme Court. Our country has made great strides in defining free speech and what censorship is according to the First Amendment of the Constitution. We live in America, the finest society in the world. The right to freedom of speech leads Americans to believe that they have a large voice, and a constitution to back them up.
Sadly, but true, academic and free speech freedoms on campuses all across America are in danger of being overrun by college administrators and state and government organizations. Speech codes violate the Constitution and should never be adopted on campus. The development of speech codes on campus is not the right way to address the problems of hate speech. Speech codes violate free speech to such a degree that they should never be adopted. In the interest of free speech, hate speech, although abhorrent, should be protected by the U. S. Constitution. Yes, certain speech is hurtful, but society has the ability to ignore or correct.
The fact is that our right to free speech is being violated. Passing of the hate crime bills by President Obama has set in motion the future criminalization of expression. The appearance of hate crimes on campus is symbolic of the increase hate crimes all across America. We need to end the political abuse on college campuses today and restore the integrity of the academic mission, a pursuit of knowledge. The only way to transform minds is to challenge the ideas through speech. Free speech must exist in order for the Constitution to be protected and so students can continue to grow in their ability to determine fact from fiction.
Freedom of speech is synonymous with American freedom. We as students at universities and colleges across America are free to judge the importance of what is being said by ourselves. Freedom to express words should not be limited simply because viewers find them offensive. Individuals must be free to decide what to read, write, paint, draw, see and hear. Words should never be banned. Words have consequences only if we choose to give them consequences. They have no effect in their own right because words are used to represent our own ideas and responsibilities. Works Cited ACLU. org. “Hate Speech on Campus”. Web. 994. 29 March 2010. Bok, Derek. “Protecting Freedom of Expression at Harvard. ” Everything’s an Argument. Lunsford, Andrea A. , and Ruszkiewicz, John J. , Bedford/St. Martin’s: Boston, 2007. 123-125. Print. Campusspeech. org. “Protecting the Free Exchange of Ideas in Higher Education”. Web. 27 March 2010. Clemmitt, Marcia. “Academic Freedom. ” CQ Researcher 15. 35 (2005): 833-856. CQ Researcher. Web. 29 Mar. 2010. Cooper, Michael. “Can Free Speech Go Too Far? ” New York Times Upfront 142. 12 (2010): 8. Academic Search Elite. Web. 29 Mar. 2010. Cornell. edu. “Bill of Rights. ” Web. 17 April 2010. Dershowitz, Alan M. Testing Speech Codes. ” Everything’s an Argument. Lunsford, Andrea A. , and Ruszkiewicz, John J. , Bedford/St. Martin’s: Boston, 2007. 166-167. Print. Jost, Kenneth. “Hate Crimes. ” CQ Researcher 3. 1 (1993): 1-24. CQ Researcher. Web. 7 Apr. 2010. —. “Student Rights. ” CQ Researcher 19. 21 (2009): 501-524. CQ Researcher. Web. 29 Mar. 2010. Larner, Jesse. “Hate Crime/Thought Crime. ” Dissent 57. 2 (2010): 74-79. Academic Search Elite. Web. 30 Mar. 2010. Silverglate Harvey, et al. Fire’s Guide to Free Speech on Campus. Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Philadelphia: 2005. Thefire. org. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.