It is a very common point of view that individuals have the right to their opinions. Indeed, a central feature of autonomy is the freedom of thought, and any person or society which values individual autonomy must consequently treat it as a fundamental right. A fundamental right is one that may not be violated, even for the sake of a public good. As it would be wrong to kill ten carriers of a dangerous disease to prevent its spread to a thousand others, it would be wrong to punish people for holding unpopular or even reprehensible beliefs.
There is no fundamental right, however, to act on one’s beliefs. If a person believes that all who are not a member of their particular religion should be killed, that is their right. But if they begin killing their neighbors, they are committing a crime and a moral wrong, and may justifiably be stopped and punished. The right to freedom of action only extends as far as those actions do not harm others.
Expressing one’s beliefs is an act that lies in a moral and legal grey area. On the one hand, what use is the right to believe something if there is no corresponding right to freely express it? Mill argues convincingly that restricting the freedom of expression harms not only those whose speech has been limited, but the entire society in which they live, even and especially those who disagree with them. For a government or a majority of citizens or any group or individual in a position of social or political power to restrict the expression of criticism or ideas contrary to their own would be an unjustifiable abuse of that power. For this reason, the US constitution protects people and their speech against censorship or punishment by the government.
On the other hand, acts of speech can do re...
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... means that universities should never commit or endorse acts of hate speech, and perhaps should even publicly condemn them. However, the institution is not responsible for the speech of individuals, and thus allowing it cannot be considered an act of expression. There is indeed no sufficient harm that individual hate speech causes to justify restricting it.
In order to create a space that is safe for all people, a university community should instead commit to endorse in speech and action those values it agrees with. Allowing acts of hate speech does not mean granting them an equal platform, nor does it mean shielding them from criticism. In fact, it is probably more effective for opponents of hate speech to openly debate hateful ideas than to ban them. Minds are not changed by repression. Mill knew that, and the very purpose of a university is based upon that fact.
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