In 1789, the founding fathers of the United States wrote what would become the pinnacle of this country, the Bill of Rights. One of the most important tenets still today, the first amendment of the Bill of Rights embodies true freedom. Our campus wishes to put in place a hate speech policy, and it goes against the very core of what our nation is about.
Looking at the First Amendment, it clearly states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The campus group, “We Wear Beanies too”, is the main proponent of the establishing of the policy on campus. In their five goals, the first one states “Establish an anti- hate speech policy.” It is important to draw the distinction that this article is not an attack on the “We wear beanies too” movement. Rather, it is a critique of the potentially harmful policy that their group wishes to introduce at Concordia.
I was surprised at how hard it was to find a legal definition of “hate speech.” The government cannot create any laws or bans on the freedom of speech. The current loophole is that Concordia College is not a public school, and not reporting to the state allows them to in theory restrain the First Amendment by instilling such a policy. However, this is harmful in the long run for students, as hate speech is a gray area and is subject to an opinion when comes to identifying it. This could translate into prejudice towards opposing football teams equates the same misbehavior as prejudice towards a minority group. Obviously, no one would agree, but this broad scope application being misused is the point I am trying to make. When we begin to censor people with what we define as “hateful words”, then we have a slippery slope ahead of us. The issue with entering this “slippery slope” is simple. Take a snowball as an example. By itself, the humble snowball does not seem too imposing. But if you were to throw that snowball down a steep hill, it begins to grow larger, and pick up speed. It grows so large that it becomes very hard to stop, and causes damage along the way. This same idea applies to a hate speech policy, which is why many schools are wary to create one. Once one caveat is made as a concession to a group, then it becomes more and more difficult to stop making concessions for other groups, ending in a chaotic mess of censorship and accusations.
I must clarify that there is a grave difference between hate speech and speech intended to arouse violence. Take the situation in Colorado with the baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple, for instance. It is very easy to categorize the baker’s action as “hate speech,” however, the action never intended to escalate to physical violence. The same idea applies to Concordia. We have many different people with different ideas. By creating a rule that inhibits people’s ability to articulate their thoughts, we are doing ourselves and the person a grave injustice. Certainly, we must fight against ignorance and hate, but censorship is the wrong way to go. Think of the various civil rights movements that have happened across the period of time in the United States. All those movements were created to fight against oppression, and part of that oppression was not being protected under the First Amendment. It is held in high regard that all peoples are created equal, so does it not stand up to reason that all people may be able to speak their minds freely and openly? One does not need to agree with what another person says, and certainly one can openly detest a person’s speech if that party openly harms another group. But that freedom is the beauty of this country and why progress has been possible. We as United States citizens have continually had the opportunity to speak openly, so long as those words do not try to incite violence. So the second corrections on our Freedom of Speech capabilities are made, where will the line end? Will gossip turn into hate speech?
I will end with these thoughts. No one enjoys listening to, or being the victim of hate speech. And certainly, we ought to avoid it at all costs. But we go against the various principles of our country’s freedom if we attempt to stifle people’s speech. Silencing people only causes more dissonance. We cannot change the world by muffling voices we disagree with. We change the world by listening to others, even if we disagree. We talk to them, and show those people who possess hateful rhetoric that they are wrong. Silence is not the answer.