Hate Speech and the First Amendment

Summary of Topic

At Smith College, a panel was organized to discuss freedom of speech at colleges. During the panel Wendy Keminer was accused of being racist after discussing the “n-word” used in Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventure’s of Huckleberry Finn. It started with her repeatedly saying “n-word”, but after sometime asked the audience if they new what she was talking about. They responded by saying the word. From there on she addressed the word by its actual pronunciation. Later, she was labeled be many as being a racist and her use of the word was “an explicit act of racial violence.” Defenders of her, including the organization she worked for called “FIRE”, has responded by saying he context of the “n-word” was not insulting. Others, such as Angus Johnson from StudentActivism.net has said that she is allowed to say the word, but shouldn’t under moral obligation. At the same time, some have called her a racist. The issue brought the discussion of  the Freedom of Speech Amendment, and other laws, and what they have to say about racial slurs and hate-speech.

Summary of Legal Issues

According to the articles we have studied it is until this day unconstitutional to expelled students from universities or colleges due to racist speech. A student is protected by the First Amendment, which gives him/her freedom of speech. The student can only be punished for racist speech if what it is said can be taken as a “true-threat” against the person being discriminated.

There are many cases happening today questioning the right to use this type of speech against another person. It is also being questioned the context in which this type of speech it is being used.

Group Reflection

This project has taught us how abusing freedom of speech can be a violation of the law as well as the importance of being informed about our rights to protect us. We learned that our first amendment can be revoked from us if we use it to cause harm purposely to another person and at the same time we have learned how someone could offend us with their speech and yet not get in trouble for doing so.

Thanks to this assignment we have learned that it is required for us as citizens to be informed about our rights, use them wisely, and avoid harming other individuals. It is when we take advantage of our rights that we can violate them.


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