Hate speech by provocateurs has no place on campus – Massachusetts Daily Collegian
Campus Freedom of Expression Protection Should Not Apply to Hate Speech
Milo Yiannopoulos will speak at Pennsylvania State University on Wednesday, invited by a free speech-focused student group called Uncensored America. Yiannopoulos is a British far-right political commentator. He worked as an editor for Breitbart News, a far-right news commentary site, although he resigned after the controversy sparked his comments on pedophilia. He has since been banned from Twitter and Facebook for inciting harassment and is known for his inflammatory remarks about sexuality, feminism and political correctness.
Yiannopoulos claims to be “ex-gay” and advocates conversion therapy, a topic he plans to discuss at Wednesday’s event on the Penn State campus. He is expected to open a conversion therapy center in Florida. The situation is exacerbated by Yiannopoulos’ latest harmful slogan, “Pray the Gay Away,” which appears in bold type on posters advertising the event around the Penn State campus.
Penn State university leaders released a statement last Monday condemning Yiannopoulos, his past claims and his tour. However, as they explained, they cannot stop uncensored America from sponsoring Yiannopoulos because of the constitutional rights of students – and Yiannopoulos – under the First Amendment. A student-led petition calling on Penn State to take action to stop the event garnered more than 10,600 signatures on Saturday.
Freedom of speech on college campuses is a long debated issue with many nuances and legal implications. Two major cases set a lasting precedent in this area.
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District was one of the first – and remains the landmark – on the free speech rights of students. In that 1969 case, several students were suspended for wearing black armbands in protest against the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the students, ruling that the school had no evidence that the armbands presented a significant disruption to school activities, that students had the right to speak freely at school and that the school was targeting speech by prohibiting only one symbol. This precedent has made it difficult for universities to stop a guest speaker by students while remaining within their constitutional limits.
In Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court established a two-pronged test to determine when schools can restrict speech: whether it is “intended to incite or produce imminent unlawful action” and whether it is “likely to incite or produce such imminent illegal action”. action ”. This precedent has allowed universities to refuse lecturers invited by students in very specific circumstances.
Our understanding of “fighting words”, that is, words which by their nature “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace”, has changed over time. The definition of fighting words is one of the most significant limits to free speech to date. Today, hate speech is often a fighting word. Universities have a responsibility to intervene in hate speech occurring on campus and to act in the best interests of their students.
Penn State isn’t the first university to struggle to manage a student group invite for Yiannopoulos. He spoke at the University of Massachusetts in 2016 alongside author Christina Hoff Sommers and YouTuber Steven Crowder at an event titled “The Triggering: Has Political Correctness Gone Too Far?” The event was sponsored by Republicans from UMass College and brought together both supporters and protesters from the Conservative panel. Yiannopoulos opened the event with: “Feminism is cancer. Thank you so much.”
In other universities where Yiannopoulos spoke, the protests turned violent. In 2019, Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at the University of California, Berkeley. On the day he was supposed to speak, nearly 1,500 people protested against Yiannopoulos’ presence, some knocking down police barricades, smashing windows, throwing stones, fireworks and incendiary devices. The University canceled the event in the interests of campus safety, but condemned the violence and reiterated its commitment to protecting free speech rights.
However, provocateurs like Yiannopoulos have little or no real interest in promoting free speech. They are simply interested in attention and profit. Student groups that tout noble causes, like protecting free speech, are exploited by provocateurs for their audience and their position in campus life.
It is easy to suggest limits on freedom of expression where it suits your opinion. However, no hate speech is freedom of expression, and therefore no hate speech is subject to First Amendment protections. Yiannopoulos’ words are more than “controversial”, they are hateful, harmful and violent in their advocacy for conversion therapy and pedophilia, as well as in their denunciation of humanity. These are “fighting words” that have no place on a college campus, where the genuine promotion of free speech should thrive.
Tegan Oliver can be reached at [email protected]