What’s Left: First Amendment – On Freedom of Hate Speech

Glynnis Harvey, Class of 2020

Hate Has No Home

Those who advocate for the canceling of alt-right, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, islamophobic, transphobic and other types of hateful lectures on college campuses are true champions of speech.

Yes, we have free speech in America but not all speech is protected, and for good reason. You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater or advocate for assassinating a president. Saying those things incites chaos and could lead to violence. 

In 2016, a man was elected president for his loose-cannon, “honest” way of speaking. His freedom to use divisive rhetoric and his direct, hateful and violent slanders of immigrants, women, people of color (POC), people with disabilities and others awoke extremist hate groups all over this country. He cleared the way for these groups to think it is acceptable to not only hold those beliefs, but to be brazen and proud of them. In 2017, racists are not embarrassed to be racist, and Nazis are not embarrassed to be Nazis. The agenda and rhetoric of the far- and alt-right are motivated to divide and degrade certain groups of Americans. And this August, we saw the power of hate speech culminate into chaos and violence in Charlottesville. 

When these hateful ideologies are given a platform in an academic setting, their messages are elevated and given a form of vindication. Words have power and can cause serious damage to our society. Hate groups realize the power of education and what it symbolizes, and they continually attempt to undermine it. The horrid events at Charlottesville began with a raid on University of Virginia’s campus. While the president and his supporters try to frame this as just a disagreement over a statue, this Trump administration continues to wash over every gruesome detail that shows these terrorists’ intentions were so much worse than just that. The first place they took their chants of “Blood and Soil” and backwards thinking was a place of learning and enlightenment.

Colleges and universities have become the battleground for the issue of hate speech versus free speech. Speakers are brought to schools to showcase and debate different points of view. But we don’t need to discuss whether it is good to be racist, anti-semitic or to oppress and deny women their rights. It’s not good, and there is no debating that.  

Extremists like Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter, who have had their lectures  on college campuses either canceled or highly protested, claim that free speech is under attack. In actuality, when hateful, harmful and disgusting rhetoric is shut down, the sanctity of speech is upheld. Free speech and freedom of expression is truly under attack when the president of the United States believes and advocates for football players being fired for kneeling in peaceful protest.

Hate speech is destructive to American values and allows extremists and domestic terrorists to gain and rise to power. Schools are microcosms of society and there is no reason to have hate taught as a valid point of view. Hate does not deserve to be legitimized, academically, or ever. Under our current jurisprudence, hate apparently has a home in America. But here on Colgate’s campus and on campuses across the country, we should say, “no way.” 

Contact Glynnis Harvey at [email protected]