Everyone has a right to free speech

Unpopular opinion: Neo-Nazi groups should be allowed to say what they want.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me explain.

As a reporter, the First Amendment is simply what I do; it’s something that journalists depend on to successfully do their jobs, which is to maintain loyalty to the public and dedication to the truth.

Hate speech — speech that is offensive on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, disability or anything along the lines of these identifiers — is blatantly protected by the First Amendment. And, in case there is argument that this old rule might have changed since the amendment was ratified in 1791, the fact that hate speech is protected was just reiterated in June of this year by the Supreme Court in Matal v. Tam.

At a recent Graduate Student Senate assembly, Councilman Daniel Gordon made note of two visits by Neo-Nazi groups in the past year and expressed his concern over their derogatory messages being voiced on campus. While I understand his concern, and share it personally, I do not completely appreciate his proposed method for dealing with such a disturbance on University grounds. He referred to their speech as violence-inciting and showed support for the development of a policy that would prevent them from speaking out in such a hateful way.

The proposal of a prior restraint policy is walking the line of constitutionality. As much as it utterly disgusts me to know they speak out against nearly everyone who isn’t of their “Aryan race” and that everything they believe in goes against everything I believe as a human being, I know that trying to prevent what they have to say has the potential to harm the free speech rights of other groups that have completely contrasting views to Neo-Nazis.

There is also the issue of defining what makes speech violence-inciting. If it can be proved that these groups are calling for people to act physically on these toxic ideas, then they should absolutely be held accountable in a legal arena. In nearly every possible case, putting policy in place to prevent their hateful words, however, is simply not constitutional.

Clarence Page put out an opinion piece in September that focused on the intolerance today’s college students have for intolerant speech. In his article, he cites research done by the Pew Research Center that describes millennials as being more likely than previous generations to be in favor of preventing offensive speech. I agree with Page’s view that students mean well and feel this way about prior restraint because the emotional harm done by hate speech is something no one should have to experience, but I also agree with Page’s point that education about what is and what is not protected by the First Amendment is part of the solution. He outlines a basis for response to hate speech in the article:

“The best response to ‘hate speech’ or any other objectionable speech, the old saying goes, is more speech. … Students should be exposed to more ideas, not fewer, and encouraged to arm themselves with knowledge so they can defend those ideas. Peacefully.”

When hateful groups make their way onto campus, don’t start a riot against them. Instead know that both of you have the right to free speech, and you can use your right to spread messages of love, compassion, acceptance and diversity in defense of the ideas those groups seek to ruin.

What is not protected by the First Amendment:

Obscenity: “(a) whether the ‘average person applying contemporary community standards’ would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” (Congressional Research Service).

Child Pornography

Fighting Words and True Threats: “by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” (Congressional Research Service).

Definition of prior restraint: “Government action that prohibits speech or other expression before it can take place” (Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School).

How to constitutionally combat hate speech:

Join groups that promote messages          of love, diversity and acceptance. Avoid throwing insults and attempts   to escalate the situation to a violent level when faced with hate speech.

Show compassion and tolerance to minority groups.

Try to see things from other perspectives.