Opinion: The right to free speech doesn’t include hate speech


Ella Adams, Managing Editor

The extent of free speech is a debate happening across the country with the focus on hate speech. Hate speech is discriminatory speech, writing or behaviour that attacks religion, race, gender, sexuality and other factors of identity. With the rise of  political polarization and an increased spotlight on social issues, people are quick to police each other’s language. This debate over the First Amendment is happening among students and administrators in Boone. People are not afraid to express their opinions and American universities have cautiously navigated free speech on campus, balancing between too much restriction and not enough. So where should we draw the line between free speech and hate speech?

It is App State’s responsibility to ensure students have a voice on campus. But, App State must ensure students feel accepted. Students have the right to express their beliefs, however, the line is crossed when free speech infringes on another student’s right to feel safe on campus.

A student reported to Black at App State an incident in which they and eight of their friends were verbally harassed by two white fellow students shouting racial slurs at them on campus. The student says in the Instagram post, “…I realized how unprotected Black students were in this community.” It is unclear if the incident was reported to the university. But regardless of if incidents are reported to administration, fighting hate speech begins with App State students. Hate speech should not be accepted on App State’s campus. Free speech is a pillar of American ideals but shouldn’t be used to alienate and harass fellow citizens in the name of freedom.

Americans are familiar with the First Amendment: Congress cannot make any law restricting freedom of speech, religion, the press etc. But, the First Amendment does not give Americans the right to say whatever they want: there are restrictions. Yelling fire in a crowded theater is not protected free speech because it falsely expresses clear and present danger. Additionally, reasonable threats against another person are not protected. Unregulated hate speech normalizes prejudice therefore, it is extremely dangerous. For example, the United States is currently experiencing a spike in hate crimes – the highest numbers in 16 years. Hate speech encourages discrimination so App State is in its right to take action against students who use it.

Free speech is important on college campuses, but students’ freedom to exist on campus hate – and harassment – free is far more important.