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Freedom of Speech to Hate Speech on Campus

College campuses are centers for public speakers to network and spread information. Freedom of speech is an important part of this, but it could possibly cover hate speech.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is arguably one of the most important amendments for protecting Americans’ right to speak. “The five freedoms it protects: speech, religion, press, assembly and the right to petition the government,” according to the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU).

So when is the line crossed from freedom of speech into hate speech? More importantly, can that line be crossed on school campuses across the U.S.?

I would say no, but it’s a bit trickier than a direct yes or no.

There are a couple gray areas when one is trying to accuse a person or group of using hate speech. One reason for that is the lack of an official definition for hate speech.

However, the best definition is by Free Speech and the Development of Liberal Values, which states, “Any form of expression through which speakers intend to vilify, humiliate or incite hatred against a group or a class of persons.”

It’s pretty simple: one can state an option or go against any topic that interests them publicly. We have a right to say something along the lines of “our government should run differently,” or “the president is an idiot” with no repercussions, fines or jail time.

With topics that have strong personal connections or value, like religion, tensions can rise quickly on the most controversial topics. Homosexuality and abortion seem to be the biggest hot buttons, and once hit, the energy of a speech, conversation or debate can intensify.

The direction of the argument changes from trying to educate or reach an understanding to who is right or wrong. That is where the conversation gets derailed, and typically where hate speech starts to enter the conversation, if it was not already present.

According to the American Library Association, the use of hate speech and encouraging safety in numbers while spewing hatred for others can lead to hateful conduct or hate crimes. Social acceptance should not trump moral ethics.

The truth is if one is legitimately trying to spread a message, educate others or give information they feel is valuable, it is their right to do so. As long as they have the right legal documentation, it’s hard for a college or university to deny them the right to set up and speak their mind.

There is, however, a small way to control it. MTSU.edu clarifies, “The First Amendment protects us against government limits on our freedom of expression, but it doesn’t prevent a private employer from setting its own rules.”

This means schools can set rules that limit the language used, or can result in the removal of groups or people speaking and not allowing them back on campus.

There should be regulations: if the information is provably incorrect, like the earth is flat, then they should not be allowed to speak.

Once someone crosses from “this is my information whether you agree or not,” to “you are wrong for not agreeing,” or they start to verbally attack or talk down to a person, group, race or preference, they should be removed and not allowed back on campus.

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