Should Racist Speech Enjoy Protection under the First Amendment?
Prejudice and racial stereotyping are two of this country's greatest problems today. Many people in our society have tried to find ways to eliminate or at least limit these types of behavior, but have met with very limited, if any, success. Because of the complex nature of racism and racist acts, coupled with the fact the first amendment prohibits the government from limiting the publics' right to free expression and speech, the Federal government has been ineffective in eliminating racist actions that pervade our society. State governments and institutions have attempted to set up their own laws condemning such actions, but have been wholly unsuccessful.
Some of those waging a war on racism have established anti-discrimination policies, and have had these policies challenged as a result. Central Michigan University, for example, had instituted a discriminatory harassment policy, only to have it shot down by the Supreme Court in 1995 on grounds that the policy "necessarily requires [the] university to assess racial or ethnic content of speech." Since Central Michigan University is a State school, the First Amendment prohibits it from enacting regulations that would limit an individual's right to free speech unless the regulations, according to a 1986 ruling by the Supreme Court, are "narrowly and precisely designed."
As you can imagine, precisely tailoring any statute in order to prohibit racist speech is nearly impossible - and as many other speakers have already said, banning the current racial slurs will only create new ones. Additionally, an outright ban on racist speech and ideas could likely lead to a higher level of violence in our society.
A number of other supreme court rulings have come out in favor of protecting all speech, including racist speech, such as:
A 1941 ruling on the case of Sullens v State, stating that the "Freedom of speech includes freedom to speak unwisdom or even heresy."
A 1949 ruling on the case of Terminillo v Chicago, stating that "Attacks on racial and religious groups are protected by right of free speech in absence of showing of serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest…"
A 1952 ruling on the case of Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v Wilson, stating that: ...
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...ks and racial slurs in the workplace, we can somewhat satisfy those who clamor for an outright ban on racism. By not allowing this type of speech to be criminalized, we stand by our First Amendment rights and continue to allow freedom of expression. By offering each side this compromised solution we can not only help to phase racism out of our society, but also protect our unalienable rights.
The Freedom to speak one's mind is one of this country's citizens' most venerably held rights, and any discussion which deals with government imposed limitations on this right should not be taken lightly. Completely banning speech that is deemed by some to be racist only serves to bury the problem of racism itself, and is not an acceptable solution. Thus, the First Amendment should continue to protect racial slurs as well as all other speech in order to preserve and ensure the freedoms we have today. In conclusion, I'd like to quote one last ruling from the 8th circuit Federal court from 1946: "[The] First Amendment is intended to assure privilege that in itself must be so actual and certain that fear and doubt are absent from [an] individual's mind, or freedom is but abstraction."
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