Hate speech is the free and unrestricted expression towards individuals based on their status in society, race, sex or physical appearance that is belligerent and dehumanizing to the victim and usually leads to their isolation from their immediate community. Hate speech takes many forms, but one thing that cuts across the board, is that it’s directed towards minority groups that have different characteristics to the dominant group and is fuelled by peer pressure (Gould 13). Institutions of higher learning have been plagued by numerous cases of hate speech which have led to violence and hatred among the students and the fraternity at large. Therefore, institutions of higher learning have come up with speech codes that are meant to litigate the effects of student discrimination.
Hate speech codes have tremendously increased from 75 in 1990 to 300 in 1991. This spike highlights the problem that many universities and colleges are facing in controlling discriminatory harassment which has increased by 400% between 1985 and 1990. However, most harassment goes unreported in many campuses and therefore it becomes difficult to assess the effectiveness of speech codes.
Speech codes are laws that institution make so as to restrict the fraternity’s constitutional Right for free speech by curtailing peculiar behavior that would be considered as hate speech. These laws are meant for the general good of everyone in the institution. This is because many students have abused their right to free speech and used it to oppress others. However, many people believe that speech codes have no place in a democratic society since they undermine people’s right of free speech. They believe that everyone has a right to express themselves in whatever way they chose and therefore should not be suppressed. The judicial system has categorized what it considers as hate speech with free speech being legally guarded by the First Amendment (Sanford 1999). This paper will look into the legality of speech codes and their position in the moral and legal standards of the society.
The most important argument that is brought forth against speech codes is their violation of the First Amendment that protects the right to free speech. Many theorists argue that free speech should not be undermined except in cases where it is used to protect against physical harm and therefore making it legit. What many institutions are doing is prohibiting opinions, however offensive and unpopular they may be, this opinions lead to no harm. These means that the fundamental right of free speech should not be undermined merely because of hate speech.
Additionally, many critics state that speech codes undermine the freedom of free expression that is supposed to be promoted in universities and colleges. Minority groups who are supported by these speech codes us them against students who may have contradicting opinion since many institutions will rush to discipline anyone purported to break any speech code. This damages the fundamental principles of higher learning since institutions are supposed to harbor all sorts of opinions however controversial they are.
Censorship also creates another problem to the students it claims to protect. It is evident that racism is not isolated to institutions of higher learning, but also prevalent in other institutions in the real world. The minority groups that are protected are denied the chance to prepare properlyforany discrimination that they may find in the places of work. By encouraging an artificial reality in campuses, most students are unprepared when they graduate.
Hate speech codes also hamper the kind of learning that endorses diversity. The fever that led administrators to put up speech codes may influence them to create other restrictions so as to create perfect institutions in an imperfect world. These new rules may create totalitarian authority which may work against the institutions in the future.
Tolerating hate speech can help us understand and diagnose the reasons that elicit hate speech. When people are allowed to open up and given the freedom of speech, education can be used to counter hate speech;in fact, the main role of institutions of learning is to come up with solutions to problems that face the society. Thus, hate speech codes shield these institutions from their roles in the society.
One disadvantage of censorship is that it is very difficult to know which words are demeaning and which are not. This is because there are many dynamics in play those changes over time such as time; cultures and the meaning of words. A good example is the word queer; before, it was considered as a patronizing word that was used to represents homosexuals, however, many homosexuals have embraced it and even use it as the name to their movement i.e. the `Queer Nation`. Other words such as ‘nigga’ are openly and privately used by African Americans and it is hard to implicate white people because that in its self would be racism; because African American are allowed to use it. Other words such as ‘rednecks’ are simply controversial since they are openly used in the media and also by the public. These complexities openly undermine speech codes since the boundaries are a little bit blurry and may lead to un-foreseen difficulties when it comes to implementation.
There is contention on the differences between what may be considered offensive and harassing. Harassment falls under the category of discriminatory actions and the First Amendment allows regulation of such; however, offensive speech is not illegal according to the constitution. Not everyone agrees as to what is offensive and everything that is offensive is not necessarily harmful.
Finally, what is being reflected by arguments that are against speech code is that people should develop a hard skin and not cave due to verbal utterances. It is utterly pointless to protect everyone in the expense of undermining the role of these institutions; better speech is a healthier remedy than silence.
Most people who support speech codes believe that the harm they prevent eventually outweighs the freedom they restrict. When hate speech is focused on a student from a minority group, it does more harm than just hurting their feelings. The verbal attack is the fruit of a history of racism and oppression that will hinder the student to perform on an equal platform as their colleagues (Kors 1998). These effects are clear and warrant the limiting of speech rights.
Apart from minimizing harm to minority groups, there are other numerous benefits that are as direct results of hate speech codes. Essentially, universities are supposed to encourage rational opinions that provoke debates. On the contrary, hate speech intends to undermine contradicting opinions by invoking fear (Lederer 1995). Hate speech codes promotes discussions that are supported by convictions and facts by protecting potential victims. It is also reasonable for institutions to act on the best interest of their students. When the right of speech contradicts the purpose of the institution and obstructs the learning process of some of its students, then it is acceptable to extend protection to those who cannot defend themselves.
Hate speech codes also acts as solutions to the conflict between the right to education and the right to free speech (Abel 1998). When a student attends a university or college, they have the right to a peaceful environment that enables them to concentrate on learning; hate speech undermines and intimidates them thus destroying the opportunity to acquire a decent education.
When speech leads to insults that are directed to an individual or groups, it falls under the category of harassment which is an exception in the First Amendment (Wolfson 1997). Assaultive speech justifies any action that administrators may take to quell it in institutions of education. Also, workplace exception of the First Amendment protect employees from any harassment in the workplace, this may also be used to protect students from verbal harassment.
Political correctness is a tool that was formulated to protect the disadvantaged by shielding them from language that destroys their spirits (Delgado 1997). This helps to promote harmony in a society with many cultures and ensure equality is upheld. When free speech of one person oppresses the free speech of another, then their constitutional protection should be peeled away.
Finally, those who support hate speech codes see them as necessary tools to a just resolution of conflict between civil liberties (i.e. right of speech) and civil rights (i.e. freedom from humiliation and stigma). At the center of this conflict is the fact that minority students cannot have a fair chance for education if they are not protected from oppressive behaviors elicited by the majority. It is proven that fear is amplified when threats emanate from people in power (majority) rather than from people who are powerless (minority). Hate speech codes comes to bridge the difference and bring balance in institutions by empowering all students.
Rebuttal of Arguments for Speech Codes
In his speech, Charles R. Lawrence brings forth a number of reasons why the First Amendment should not protect hate speech. He highlights the solutions that the society should embrace to fight against hate speech and diminish it completely. There are so many things that disturb Lawrence, one of them being the rise of hate speech in colleges in universities even when the world have made great strides in fighting these scourge. Lawrence argues that civil rights activists should not fight the weak efforts of the universities to protect against the minority who are perceived so due to race, sex or societal class. Lawrence argues that hate speech puts drastic agony on its victims and is not worth protecting at any level.
Controversy arises from Charles R. Lawrence speech because it is difficult to ascertain the difference between assaultive speech and verbal vilification. Lawrence does not make any effort to clarify these two terms which carry different weight in the eyes of the law.Nor does Lawrence draft a model set of regulations for hate speech that would prevent (or make liable to punishment for) the harm such speech causes and still pass constitutional guidelines.
One of the main concepts that should be promoted in universities is academic freedom, the right to inquire broadly, to question and promote an environment where unconventional ideas are promoted. By putting restrictions to free speech, we only encourage short term solutions that have no effect on the society. The free exchange of ideas and curiosity should be the main tools for finding ways of combatting hate speech. These solutions should come from an environment of free speech and not silence. Basing academic freedom on its content undermines it; rather, universities should provide a forum of refection about the nature of one self.
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