Defending the Worst of Free Speech

The First Amendment does not make exceptions for hate speech. So when University of Oklahoma President David Boren decided to expel two students and ban the campus chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, he did nothing less than violate the Bill of Rights. To see the move cheered by the majority of Americans shows just how quick we are to abandon our core principles for the sake of good intentions.

Was there anyone who didn’t cringe when they saw the video? A bunch of idiotic frat boys singing a racist song about how they would never allow a n****r into their exclusive club? Are you serious? Liberals are willing to stretch the definition of racism beyond the breaking point when they want to, but they didn’t have to stretch too far this time. It was disgusting, ignorant, and worthy of universal condemnation.

But that’s about all.

No one was hurt. No one had their civil rights violated. No laws were broken. Had the university left the matter alone, the frat would have probably closed within a year. Who would join it? But, eager to prove themselves a racist-free zone, the school instead decided to snap the Constitution in half.

Even the ACLU, a collection of lawyers always eager to favor liberalism over true constitutional protection, has been forced to weigh in on the side of SAE:

As a state-run institution of higher education, the University of Oklahoma must also respect First Amendment principles that are central to the mission of every university. Any sanction imposed on students for their speech must therefore be consistent with the First Amendment and not merely a punishment for vile and reprehensible speech; courts have consistently and rightly ruled as such.

What do we gain by allowing this kind of speech to stand? Does it improve society? Does it benefit anyone? I suppose you could make the argument that it’s better to shine a light on this kind of racism than to hide it under the cover of darkness. But even that excuse is a bit flimsy.

Here’s the problem, though. Where do we draw the line, if not at the First Amendment? Who decides what constitutes “hate speech”? How many Americans must be offended before we declare a word off limits? Would these students have been expelled if a gentler word had been used? Would they have been okay if they kept the word but changed the message? Who decides these things?

No one wants to defend people like this. No one wants to throw in with an immature bunch of hooligans. But that’s what freedom is. It’s defending people like this so that the kind of speech you prefer isn’t the next to go. Public opinion has already come down hard on these young men, and that should be enough.


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