Free Speech or Hate Speech?
Free speech is one of the core values in the United States that upholds the liberty of individuals. One of the cornerstones of free speech in America is the First Amendment to the Constitution which states that Congress is not allowed to create laws that will treat any religion as the official religion of the State or of the Country. It prohibits Congress from creating laws that restrict people from freely exercising their religion or laws that abridge the freedom of speech or the freedom of the press.
It also promotes the right of the people to publicly assemble in a peaceful manner and the right of the people to make government petitions seeking for a redress of grievances. Everybody knows free speech is very important for the people in the society but it also has a weak point. Free speech can also become a means to make hate speeches.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines hate speech as a form of speech that conveys intolerance or dislike of one person or group towards other social groups.
The hatred conveyed through such type of speeches is largely based on race or sexuality among others. Hate speeches are commonly characterized by hostile verbal abuse which oftentimes causes personal offense. In our college life, free speech has always been a hot topic. There is an argument about whether free speeches should be regulated on college campuses or not because there is the probability of tempers flaring and free speeches turning into hate speeches. For our part, it is very difficult to provide a straight answer because we have to consider free speech as part of our life in college. For the most part, my answer is we should regulate free speeches on campuses without totally restricting them because of the danger of free speeches turning into hate speeches. I believe the dignity of individuals should be upheld at all times even if it meant regulating some of our freedoms. More importantly, I believe that all forms of freedom entail responsibility on our part, which is why the regulation of free speeches is crucial in upholding human dignity.
In 1982, the University of Michigan adopted the first college hate speech code. The code states that the school prohibits physical acts or threats in the forms of verbal slurs, invectives or epithets. It prohibits hate speeches that refer to an individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, creed, national origin, ancestry, age, or handicap whose purpose is to injure the person to whom the words or actions are directed. It prohibits hate speeches that are made as a part of a discussion or an exchange of ideas, ideology, or philosophy. Despite all of the efforts of the school to prohibit hate speeches, incidences of hate speeches still occur in campus.
In my experience, I am an international student and sometimes some people call me a FOB. When I first time came here, I did not know about the meaning of the word and whether or not it was dehumanizing in any way. Eventually, I learned that the phrase meant “fresh off the boat”. In my country’s history, many Vietnamese people were considered fresh off the boat before because there came a time when many of my countrymen became refugees off boats. After learning the meaning of the term, I became angry and my heart was broken although I knew I could not do anything since I did not want to make any problem in school. I firmly think that FOB or any other derogatory remark in campus is a kind of hate speech that should not be tolerated and should be stopped. Since free speeches can turn into hate speeches that make use of highly offensive phrases and words, I think that it is truly important to enforce school regulations on free speeches.
I am not entirely against free speech. In fact, I believe that free speech is one of the best ways of allowing students to express their feelings concerning important campus and social issues. I think that without free speech students will hardly be able to oppose issues that they see as either unbeneficial or disadvantageous to the entire student population. I also think that free speech enables us to exercise our rights not only as students but also as members of the society. However, there are some things about free speech which I think can pose threats towards the dignity of others.
In the campus, students are given the chance to exercise their right to free speech. I have observed that sometimes the free speeches of students contain insulting words and phrases. They sometimes also contain direct reference to someone’s sexual and racial orientation as well as several obscene words that are not part of how a decent person would freely talk. Perhaps one of the reasons why free speeches in campuses tend to become hate speeches is because these free speeches are not regulated (Altman, p. 305). There is no school authority that will ensure that these school demonstrations of free speeches will not go beyond the essence of free speech.
There is a need to regulate free speeches in schools because the abuse of the right to free speech can never be far behind (Ma, p. 696). Although the right to free speech entails responsibility on the part of students, it is not always the case that students are able to take full responsibility of what they say. On the contrary, students sometimes use their right to free speech to cause personal wrongs towards others in the form of verbal abuse. Students can also use free speech in order to create a collective form of hatred towards an individual or other group of students. While free speech is an important right, it is also equally important to regulate it so that it will not be abused by students.
Hate speeches in campuses can happen even inside the classrooms. With that in mind, it is important that teachers should see to it that their students follow proper etiquette when addressing their fellow students inside the classroom. Teachers should also see to it that their students are made aware of the harms brought by free speeches turning into hate speeches. Students should also be taught about the rights of students to human dignity and that free speech should not be used as a way to destroy that dignity. I believe that regulating free speech begins inside the classroom and grows beyond its walls. If teachers are unable to regulate the students’ free speech in any form inside the classroom, there is little chance that the school authorities will be able to regulate the free speech of students outside of the walls of the classroom.
Perhaps the most important step that a school can do in order to regulate free speech is to issue a code of ethics “encouraging and requiring students to become responsible in their practice of that right” (Gould, p. 346). Healthy discourse should be the main concern of students when exercising their right to free speech so that it won’t turn into a hate speech. School officials can delegate or create a specialized body of school authorities who will see to it that student demonstrations inside the campus will not turn into hate speech frenzies. School authorities can also create a set of school rules regarding free speeches which, when abused, can lead to specific punishments. Students may be reprimanded on first offense and they may be given heavier penalties for further offenses. I think there is no need to require students to seek permission from school authorities if they want to form a school demonstration and to exercise their right to free speech because seeking permission can lead to their request being turned down. As a result, their right to free speech becomes impaired.
Protecting the right of students to human dignity is not the same thing as limiting the right of students to free speech inside the campus. Free speeches that turn into hate speeches are no longer “free speeches” in the strictest sense of the phrase. What I am against is hate speech and not free speech. I stand in opposition to those who abuse that freedom in order to cause injustice towards innocent people whose only “sin” was to have been born to the “wrong” race or to a “queer” sexual orientation. I stand in opposition to those who abuse that freedom in order to degrade the dignity of others without even noticing that who they are attacking verbally are also human beings entitled to the same rights as theirs. Of course, it is wrong to be against the basic right to free speech. However, to be against the basic abuse of that right is not wrong. To be against hate speech is to be against the failure of students to fulfill their responsibility of using the right to free speech.
Every school in this country admits new students every year. Some universities allow individuals who were born from other countries but were raised in America to be a student of the school. As students continue to be accepted in every learning institution, there will always be the risk of being verbally abused in campuses if there are no school regulations that regulate the free speech of students. International students are some of the groups of individuals in any school who face the difficulty of being mocked, verbally abused or insulted due to their racial “difference” from the majority. They become easy targets for those who make hate speeches because international students have to first adapt to the language in order to understand the hate speeches that can be spoken against them. The same is also true for students who are preferred to be bullied around by other students due to other differences.
The need to regulate free speeches in schools is important because they can turn into hate speeches when left unguided. Although the right to free speech should not be restricted, it does not mean that the right to free speech can be allowed to cause harm to other people.
Altman, Andrew. “Liberalism and Campus Hate Speech: A Philosophical Examination.” Ethics 103.2 (1993): 302-17.
Gould, Jon B. “The Precedent That Wasn’t: College Hate Speech Codes and the Two Faces of Legal Compliance.” Law & Society Review 35.2 (2001): 345-92.
Ma, Alice K. “Campus Hate Speech Codes: Affirmative Action in the Allocation of Speech Rights.” California Law Review 83.2 (1995): 693-732.
Cite this Free Speech or Hate Speech?
Free Speech or Hate Speech?. (2016, Oct 04). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/free-speech-or-hate-speech/