Monday, June 15, 2020

College chief aims at 'hate speech,' hits First Amendment



A college president is being called out for violating the First Amendment in his effort to combat "hate speech."

Jay Clune of Nicholls State University recently sent an email to students and faculty affirming the school's "solidarity with our Black community."

"Nicholls will not tolerate any form of hate speech," he said. "Free speech does not protect hate speech."

The problem with that statement, points out the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is that it's not true.

"It’s a common refrain – that the First Amendment doesn’t protect hate speech," said Adam Steinbaugh, who wrote to Nicholls in behalf of FIRE. "The problem is, that’s wrong. Some hateful expression is not protected because it falls into one of the other exceptions to the First Amendment, but there is no categorical ‘hate speech’ exception. Everybody has their own definition of ‘hate speech,’ and a university president should not mislead students and faculty about what the Constitution permits him to do."

Clune threatened "the swiftest, harshest action allowed by law if any member of our campus community is found acting or communicating in a manner that does not support our values."

He condemned "racist, hateful, and hurtful language."

Fire told Clune that his email actually is "a roadmap to violating the well-established First Amendment rights of Nicholls State students and faculty."

"It has long been settled law that the First Amendment is binding on public colleges like Nicholls State," the letter explained. The university's actions "must be consistent with the First Amendment."

The Supreme Court has determined that speech cannot be banned "simply because it offends others, on- or off-campus."

"This core First Amendment principle is why the authorities cannot prohibit the burning of the American flag – or, for that matter, the Confederate flag."

FIRE commented: "While Nicholls State is free to 'encourage the expression of free thoughts and ideas,' the First Amendment forbids it from drawing a line between speech it views as acceptable ('thoughts and ideas') and expression 'contrary to the values' of university administrators."

The First Amendment allows restrictions on "true threats" and "fighting words," but "the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that expression does not lose First Amendment protection solely because some, or even many, deem it to be hateful."

"If the state could punish expression it deems to be hateful, it would imperil a broad range of political speech, and would unquestionably be used against those a 'hate speech' exception would be intended to protect," the letter said.

FIRE warned, "Your assertion that the First Amendment does not protect 'hate speech' is wrong, and it will have an unconstitutional chilling effect on protected expression, particularly given that you coupled that erroneous assertion with a promise to enforce it to the 'harshest' extent."


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