Freedom of Speech? Or Freedom of Some Speech?

January 30, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Posted in Ford Fellow, hate crimes | Leave a comment

Does your campus have a hate crimes policy? Are hate crimes even recognized in your state? If so, do you know what the policy actually entails?

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’d know that the University of North Carolina System has formed a commission to study and review student codes of conduct as they relate to hate crimes. This commission, consisting of students, faculty, and staff from the 10 UNC campuses, formed after four North Carolina State University (NCSU) students spray-painted racist graffiti on campus the night now-President Barack Obama won the presidential election. The bottom line in the debate is whether or not the school, by law, can punish the students; that is, are the remarks protected as free speech by the First Amendment?

The panel held a public forum in mid-January and heard from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. On January 26, the NAACP said that the UNC system should adopt a policy for hate speech. This policy would define how the UNC system would investigate these incidences, as well as the penalties that would ensue. The commission returns in February and has until March to decide whether or not to adopt a hate speech policy.

It should be simple, right? Not really.

This definitely isn’t the first time that officials, in any profession, have debated about how much speech the First Amendment really protects.

Logically speaking, individuals who make hateful remarks often refer to the First Amendment when they are questioned. Remember the column written by a student at the University of Colorado-Boulder last spring? Or how about that one piece that AsianWeek published over a year ago? While these are clearly press-related, what kinds of standards are in place that governs this type of speech? Should speech always be protected under the First Amendment regardless of content? Or should the First Amendment be amended to protect freedom of certain speech?

At NCSU, the graffiti threatened the life of the then President-elect. This type of language is not just offensive but hostile and frightening. Should this be protected under the First Amendment? What about when someone walks by you and screams “Chinaman/Jap/Gook, go back to your own country?” This isn’t particularly life-threatening, but it still embodies similar ignorance and intolerance.

Take a moment and ponder this debate. What are your thoughts? How would you respond? What are alternatives to attacking this problem? I would like to hear your thoughts.


One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

November 27, 2008 at 5:45 am | Posted in Ford Fellow, hate crimes | Leave a comment

While taking one step forward and two steps back, may seem like a great way to enjoy your surroundings, the same cannot be said about the current state of rising hate crimes after President-elect Barack Obama’s historic victory. As part of my role as the Ford Fellow, I track hate crimes regularly over the Web. However, it doesn’t take a hate crime fighter like myself to see that hate incidents and crimes have been on the rise. It is ironic that Obama’s victory is seen as a turning point in history, when it occurs against such a horrifying backdrop.

Continue Reading One Step Forward, Two Steps Back…

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