‘Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment,’ instructor points out
A law professor from the University of California – Berkeley’s law school recently urged students to “protect all speech,” including speech they find offensive and hateful.
“All ideas and views can be expressed on a college campus. Period,” Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the university’s law school, told students at Cornell University, according to The Cornell Daily Sun. “It’s very important to make the distinction between discussing what the current law is as opposed to discussing what we think the law should be.”
While allowing that there are exceptions to free speech—including ” inciteful language, fighting words and words that present a true threat”—Chermerinsky nevertheless told students that “hateful speech is protected by the First Amendment,” and that universities—public and private alike—“should allow the same level of free speech as their public counterparts.”
The dean suggested that students should “shift away from the common rhetoric of the term ‘hate speech’.”
“It’s important to separate the colloquial use of the term from the legal test that’s going to decide it,” he added.
“Many scholars argue that hateful speech should be beyond the pale and outside the scope of the First Amendment,” Chemerinsky said.
Disagreeing with those scholars, Chemerinsky said that he does not think one should be able to pick and choose which voices and opinions are heard.
“Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, because it expresses an idea. It [may be] a vile viewpoint, but as I said, under the First Amendment, all ideas have use,” he said.
Ultimately, Chemerinsky urged the audience to put aside individual feelings on the topic of protecting free speech both on campus and beyond.
“The reason we protect free speech is not for the speech we like,” Chermerinsky pointed out. “…[T]he only way I’m going to be able to speak tomorrow is to allow the speech I don’t like today.”