When we look at the issue of hate speech, the supporters of the First Amendment argue that by restricting such speech it will endanger one of the pivotal values of our society – the freedom of expression. It is only by guaranteeing freedom of speech, offensive or not, will it promote good development, communication and healthy debate in reaching a common goal or understanding. However, others argue that hate speech should not be protected under First Amendment, especially when the speech promotes hatred. Hateful speech can invoke negative feelings against a particular group or person, and may escalate into hostile actions towards them, thereby endangering the liberties of the targeted group or person.
In Charles R. Lawrence III’s essay, he argues racial speech is unacceptable and should not be protected under the First Amendment. If such protection is enforced by government regulations or school codes, it will instead create more racial violence via verbal and symbolic assault and subject the already targeted groups against intentional face-to-face insults and other assaultive speech without considering the victim’s pain and suffering. He says, racial insults do not deserve First Amendment protection because the perpetrator’s intention is not to discover truth or initiate dialogue but to injure. He argues against defending racial speech that stops short of physical violence with the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. He argues Brown case is not a case about speech, but principles of equal citizenship and equal protection. When government and schools allow segregation, it is conveying the message that segregation is alright. Through that same message, the black children were subjected to constant humiliation and psychic assault which can cause real emotional scarring and psychological problems. And these injuries should not be considered any less than a blow in the face.
He further states that by protecting racist speech, the public is being forced to the idea that racist speech should be tolerated and that the harm inflicted by racist speech will be ignored. Freedom of speech is a tool for promoting and exchange ideas. In oppressing the minorities’ ideas, it silenced them and therefore prevented them from exercising the right to free speech. He ends the essay by saying, in order to fight racism, we need to be vigilant and unequivocal in the fight, otherwise, it is just an ‘empty ideal’.
In a quite opposite view, Derek Bok argues that freedom of speech should be maintained at campus, whether public or private. He explains that even if the speech is protected under the First Amendment, it does not necessarily mean that it is right, proper or civil. He then gave two examples of racial displays of a Confederate flag and swastika at campus, arguing even though it was displayed at the dismay of many students, within the disagreements, some students believed it is a right to freedom of expression and should be protected. Bok goes on explaining some schools have enacted codes to protect their communities from insensitive speech to the feelings of the other groups, but to what degree before it borderlines censorship? He says, rather than posing limitations, schools should try to speak to the people doing the insensitive acts, educate and persuade them to understand the effects of their actions on others. It may be more beneficial to the whole group in producing a lasting effect to truly understand and create a strong and harmonious community in a respectful manner.
Bok believes offensive speech, freedom of speech is a right, and should not be used inappropriately. And racist/offensive speech can be protected under First Amendment, but public understanding that such speech should be prohibited can be achieved by inviting dialogue and mutual respectful understandings on both parties in order to preserve that right and also eliminate racist feelings towards one another.
I can see the right in both arguments, and I believe racism still exists in our world today. In order to battle it, we need to vigilant as well as understanding. This is a diverse and free world we live in, let’s not forget this important right granted to us, in order for us to form an understanding to respectfully work together to move forward, an open mind and open dialogue should always be there, so we can achieve that.