Hate Speech or Free Speech?

The Rock, a landmark of our beautiful campus at UT, serves as a place for anyone and everyone to share their own thoughts and ideas.  At least that is what I thought until one day on my way to class I went walking past The Rock and there were huge black squares clearly covering up a message that was deemed “inappropriate”.  This made me wonder, what is this unspoken social standard that these messages are being held to?  Imagine walking past The Rock and seeing an antigay message; or a message claiming religion is a waste of time.  Should people be allowed to be offended by these actions?  If people are offended, what action should they take?  Some will argue that the first amendment allows all speech to be acceptable, while others will argue that there is an undetermined social line which should not be crossed without punishment.  I believe that all speech should be considered free speech.  Just because some may be offended by another’s opinion does not mean that that opinion should not be shared.

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Classifying all speech as free speech and not punishing people who speak controversially will overall teach our generation more.  An article published in The Wall Street Journal titled, “Every Speech We Hate Should Be Free” by Mick Hume says, “We always need more speech rather than less to clarify arguments and to let people choose their own idea of the truth,” (Hume).  Without this clarification and variation in opinion throughout our society, every student will begin to agree.  When opposing opinions are removed, there will be a loss of information that would ordinarily expand the thoughts and ideas of others.  This type of conversation will also allow for students to expand their knowledge on the issue and may even force people to reevaluate their original opinion by viewing an issue from a new perspective.  Julie Lythcott-Haims agrees with this in her article, “Millennials Will Soon Define ‘America,’ and That’s a Problem for Ideas,” in The New York Times.  Lythcott-Haims shares the fact that while she was in college she subscribed to a local newspaper which published ideas that she completely disagreed with.  She mentions how she welcomed these ideas and she adds, “I learned plenty from those pages and usually strengthened my own rationale,” (Lythcott-Haims).  Without this debate being possible, all students will be exposed to only one opinion on issues and in the end, everybody will be expected to think the same way.

This is especially important for us millennials to remember in these four years while on a college campus.  Students nowadays want to be able to discuss controversial topics, yet are scared that they will be deemed socially unacceptable and out of line.  Kathleen McCartney explains this in her New York Times article “Today’s Students Have a New Way of Looking at Free Speech” when saying, “They found that, counter to the idea that today’s students fear opposing perspectives, most students want their college to be a place where uncomfortable ideas can be debated openly,” (McCartney).  If college campuses become a more socially acceptable place, then millennials will be more willing to speak up about strongly debated social subjects without the fear of being punished.  With this continued fear the idea of “echo chambers” become a problem.  Bryan Stascavage brings up this issue in his New York Times post, “The Problem With Echo Chambers on Campus and Beyond,” which states, “These vocal activists are culturally terraforming the environment around them, using public shaming and soft threats as their means to keep voices they disagree with in check,” (Stascavage).  Therefore, fear will cause only one opinion to be considered socially acceptable, which will cause everyone to think alike, causing echo chambers and narrow minded students in the end.

While many view “hate speech” as a bad thing, I believe that hate speech does not exist.  One may consider speech “hate speech” when someone is discussing a topic that disagrees with their views or is usually avoided.  However, there should be no topic that is considered unacceptable to talk about.  With the option to discuss anything and everything freely and respectfully, even when debating, then there would be no need for a social punishment.  Eugene Volokh published an article in The Washington Post called, “No, there’s no ‘hate speech’ exception to the First Amendment”, in it he discusses the fact that there is no legal definition of hate speech.  Volokh explains, “For this very reason, ‘hate speech’ also doesn’t have any fixed legal meaning under U.S. law. U.S. law has just never had occasion to define ‘hate speech’,” (Volokh).  Due to the lack of definition, contrary to popular belief, there is no written law against hate speech itself; keeping in mind, that hate speech and a threat are different things.

Overall, students should stop worrying that by sharing their opinions in a public way their speech will be considered “hate speech” as well as there should not be a fear on college campuses of a punishment for sharing one’s own controversial opinion.  Instead students need to trust their gut and recognize that by participating in healthy debate with people whose ideas oppose their own, people will become better informed and more knowledgeable about certain topics.  Diversity within ideas on a college campus must start to be looked at as a positive aspect.  With everyone on campus thinking the same thoughts, people will not only lose knowledge on subjects but they will also miss out on gaining vital conversation skills that can be used throughout life.  In the end, all opinions should be shared and accepted publicly and would have many beneficial impacts on a college campus and the overall student body.

Works Cited

Hume, Mick. “Even Speech We Hate Should Be Free.” The Wall Street Journal, 21 Aug. 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/even-speech-we-hate-should-be-free-1440165276.

McCartney, Kathleen. “Today’s Students Have a New Way of Looking at Free Speech.” The New York Times Room for Debate, 21 Dec. 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/11/02/when-a-generation-becomes-less-tolerant-of-free-speech/todays-students-have-a-new-way-of-looking-at-free-speech.

Lythcott-Haims, Julie. “Millennials Will Soon Define ‘America,’ and That’s a Problem for Ideas.”  The New York Times Room for Debate, 21 Dec. 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/11/02/when-a-generation-becomes-less-tolerant-of-free-speech/millennials-will-soon-define-america-and-thats-a-problem-for-ideas.

Stascavage, Bryan. “The Problem with Echo Chambers on Campus and Beyond.” The New York Times, Room for Debate, 20 Mar. 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/11/02/when-a-generation-becomes-less-tolerant-of-free-speech/the-problem-with-echo-chambers-on-campus-and-beyond.

Volokh, Eugene. “No, there’s no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment.”  The Washington Post, 7 May 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/05/07/no-theres-no-hate-speech-exception-to-the-first-amendment/?utm_term=.c3862967d964.

 

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