Civil libertarians and lawyers appearing on a University of Utah panel have agreed that banning "hate speech," regardless of its repugnance, would do more harm than good.
Any effort to regulate speech would run afoul of the First Amendment, panelists at the seventh annual Jefferson Fordham Debate at the U.'s College of Law said.They agreed that the best and only legal way to combat racism and bigotry is through what they termed "moral suasion."
Moderator Scott M. Matheson Jr., a university law professor, asked the panel if banning "hate speech" at a state-run college could be justified. He set the scenario at hypothetical "State U."
The panel included Robin E. Blumner, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and formerly director of ACLU-Utah; Ronald G. Coleman, university associate vice president for diversity and faculty development; Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine M. Durham; James H. Gillespie, president, Ogden Chapter, NAACP; Richard S. Hirschaut, executive director, Central Pacific Region of the Anti-Defamation League; Omar M. Kader, former executive director, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; state Sen. Karen F. Shepherd, D-Salt Lake; and U. political science Professor J.D. Williams.
Blumner said the First Amendment would preclude outlawing hate speech. The constitutional protection wouldn't necessarily extend, however, if freedom of expression moved to physical or disruptive action, she said.
Because "State U." is a public institution, there is no way its officials could attempt to ban any form of free speech.
And, Blumner said, as paradoxical as it may seem, by protecting the rights of racist, the First Amendment is further validated and refined.
Hate speech and displays, such as students donning T-shirts bearing Nazi insignia, might "poison" a college atmosphere, Hirschchaut said. Yet, it must be opposed on moral, not legal, grounds, he concluded.
Kader, a former Brigham Young University professor, claimed some success by giving bigoted students assignments in which they were forced to assume the viewpoint of the groups they loathed.