The debate on whether freedom of speech should be controlled has been a major since time immemorial. The First Amendment set the center stage for protecting rights of individuals. On the contrary, the rising cases of hate speech and racist utterances especially in campuses have rekindled the debate. For instance, Lawrence maintains that regulating speech is necessary citing the danger and harm inflicted on the victims. Conversely, Bok argues that application of such laws is not uniform and may lead to individuals finding alternative means of insulting others. In light of this comparison, the position taken in this argument is that hate speech on campus should be censored since it inflicts harm on victims or targeted students and undermines the role of universities of providing safe places of learning while infringes or supersedes the provision of free speech as contained in the First Amendment.
For Lawrence, he opines that hate speech and slurs in campus should be censored or controlled at best. His approach to the topic takes into consideration the current resurgence of campus racial violence that corresponds with the increasing symbolic and verbal assault and harassment. Also, Laurence maintains that although the attempts of regulating hate speech have been met by the arguments citing the liberty to free speech, it conflicts the necessity of eliminating racism. He cites the First Amendment in providing the freedom of expression but basing the protection of racial slurs and hate speech in colleges based on this provision is ill-advised. In essence, Lawrence indicates that “if the purpose of the First Amendment is to foster the greatest amount of speech, racial insults disserve that purpose” (Lawrence 65). Comparatively, Bok has the same approach to suggesting that the provision of the First Amendment should not be used as the justification for the hate speech. He states “the fact that the First Amendment protects speech does not necessarily mean it is right, proper or civil” (Bok 69). He gives the example of the Confederate flag being hanged in public and the response by the offended by displaying a swastika. In essence, it shows the harm that freedom of speech can bring when hate speech is not regulated, especially the discomfort that the symbols bring to other groups
Lawrence advocates the need for regulating hate speech citing that words are preemptive strike towards racism. In supporting the attempts to regulate hate speech in campuses, Lawrence cites the harmful effects that such has on the law, especially since the “intention is not to discover the truth or initiate dialogue but to injure the victim” (Lawrence 66). In the same manner, his argument aligns with the limitations of the law and constitution that states that if the freedom of liberty and speech is exercised in a manner that harms others, then such can be withdrawn. He further maintains that hate speech, upon their utterances, barely constitute a dialogue but a fight or retaliation ensues hence the necessity to regulate, according to Lawrence. However, Bok differs with Lawrence in the application of the free speech as a fundamental right. He argues that there is the necessity to be uniform or embrace uniformity when applying the rules. For instance, his concern is how “a university such as Harvard should have less free speech than the surrounding society or than a public university” (Bok 69).
Nonetheless, Lawrence faults the courts for upholding that offensive speech that has been uttered in public places should barely be subject to regulation. Regulation of hate speech is only necessary when the privacy of an individual has been infringed or invaded. In essence, posters appearing in bathrooms, dormitories or common or public spaces should not be regulated citing that the minorities, in themselves, should not expose themselves to unsafe places and find safe havens. He insists that regulation is necessary owing to the responsibility that universities have in providing safe learning environments. Accordingly, he states that “the university’s responsibility is for ensuring that students receive an equal educational opportunities” (Lawrence 66). Besides, he adds that for to provide safe places for learning, it shows the compelling justifications that the institutions have in ensuring that the learning environment is utterly safe for everyone. Hence, for minority students, they should not be subjected to constant racial assault through speech when walking within the campus. On the contrary, prohibition according to Bok does not serve to protect people from insults because individuals will always find ways of offending others. Also, application of the law or rule will be impeded by the fact that at times, “it is extremely difficult to decide when a particular communication is offensive to warrant prohibition” (Bok 70).
Lawrence argues that for the debate on the need to regulate hate speech in campuses, the conclusions cannot be made without considering or understanding the inherent harm inflicted on the victims. Using the First Amendment as the justification for racist speech is turning the constitution to an entire tool for controlling the minority. Moreover, by providing the Brown’ case and the psychological impacts of the racist speech, Lawrence brings to the attention of the audience the negative implications or the extent or harm caused by racism. Regulation, according to Lawrence, is meant to reduce the harm and danger on the victims because those arguing against regulation do not incorporate the harm or danger inflicted on the victims. Failure to regulate hate speech, according to Lawrence is like “asking the blacks and other subordinated groups to bear the burden for the good of all” (Lawrence 67). Focusing too much on maintaining freedom of speech at the expense of the plight of the minorities should not be the reason for not regulating hate speech. For Bok, the best remedy to offensive speech is ignoring them as this will ensure that students will have limited reasons for displaying the symbols and expressing racial slurs. Speaking to students is also an alternative for which all are designed to make sure that they understand the effects and ramifications of their actions.
Given the two views from both Lawrence and Bok, I believe that the former stands out as with regards to the protection of the rights of the citizens and the limits they have to free speech. The First Amendment, when incorporated in the debate about freedom of speech in campus lacks the consideration of the effects on the society and the victims. It is more concerned with balancing the society at the expense of the harm inflicted on people. Higher learning institutions are places that should embrace tolerance and help students to co-exist. Regulating or censoring hate speech helps in creating a haven for all students to pursue their studies. However, in my view, the Bok’s recommendation on the necessity to hold talks with the students who are perpetrators of hate speech can also be implemented alongside the laws prohibiting hate speech.
- Bok, Derek. “Protecting Freedom of Expression on the Campus.” Current Issues and Enduring Questions, Edited by Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau, 10th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston, Ma, 2014, pp. 69–71.
- Lawrence, Charles, III. “On Racist Speech.” Current Issues and Enduring Questions, Edited by Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau, 10th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston, Ma, 2014, pp. 64–69.