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Debate: Hate speech on campus

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Is it correct for university authorities to ban hate speech?

Background and context

A frequent topic for debate is whether freedom of speech should be limited; does a speaker, for example, have the right to incite racial hatred? One school of thought argues that censorship, in some cases, is a necessary evil. Others believe that censorship is always wrong. This issue is of particular relevance in universities and colleges because of their reputation for being breeding grounds of free thought and new ideas and because they are cultural, ethnic, religious and sexual melting pots! There as many definitions of hate speech as there are activists but a working definition might be: speech intended to incite hatred on the grounds of race, colour, sex, sexuality or religion.In Europe the status quo of limited censorship is largely accepted whereas in America this is very much a ‘hot topic’ with the clash between the 1st Amendment (freedom of speech) and the 14th Amendment (protection of minority rights). It is important that both sides do more than just quote from the constitution - they must argue whether it is correct, as well.

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Does banning hate speech on campus infringe the right of free speech?

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Yes

  • Free speech is one of the founding principles in a democratic society and should be upheld at all costs. One reason is that legal decisions censoring those who utter hate speech can be used as a precedent to silence those the government wish to censor. This is also true in a university setting where the authorities could use their powers to silence those who they consider to be disruptive. Conversely, the precedent set by upholding the right to hate speech can be used to protect the free speech of everyone. It is true that rights must be tempered by responsibilities, however the line should be drawn with legislation against hate crimes (such a the beating of a black student) rather than the censorship of free speech. While we may abhor such views it would be wrong to censor them. It is part of the philosophy, which dictates that “I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
  • The best way to combat hate speech is by speaking out against it! This way the absurdity of bigoted ideas can be demonstrated for all to see. Discussion groups and forums are the way forward.


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No

  • The rights which we enjoy in democratic countries also come with responsibilities. It is generally agreed that an individual’s rights extend so far as they do not infringe the rights of another. Minorities have a right to be free from verbal abuse and fear. If such rights are not being respected then it is necessary to legislate. This is especially important given the divers cultural and ethnic mix in our universities. The university authorities have a duty to ensure that the campus is a welcoming place for everyone and therefore it is necessary to censor hate speech.
  • Since the mid 1980s there have been a series of violent incidents, incited by hate speech, directed at various minorities in university. It is no co-incidence that the highest frequency of these attacks have been in America where the right to absolute free speech is strongest.




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Yes

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No

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