By Margarita Williamson, Trending Writer
Freedom of Speech is a vital right that ensures that members of society are able to freely express their views. However, there are limitations to this right. Fighting words, defamation, and perjury fall into the categories of unprotected speech. First Amendment court cases have further extended and granted freedom of speech rights. There are often no limits on speech that would be defined as politically incorrect or in poor taste but that is the beauty of the right. At public educational institutions, the First Amendment has fewer limitations than it does at private institutions. Certain student conduct codes can be deemed unconstitutional even when they aim to encourage political correctness.
In 2015, a video surfaced of members from the University of Oklahoma’s fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, chanting racist lyrics. The chant used the N-word and referenced lynching black people. According to CNN, “the university cut ties with Sigma Alpha Epsilon after the video surfaced, as did the national fraternity, and both launched investigations. The university has disciplined fraternity members with punishment ranging from permanent withdrawals to sensitivity training. Fraternity officers have issued apologies.” This incident was offensive on a number of levels, but questions arose whether or not the speech was protected under the First Amendment. Schools have a duty to make sure that institutions are free of racial discrimination, but they also have to protect students’ rights to freedom of expression.
Censorship of college newspapers in the last decade has been a big issue. Educational institutions have the power to censor newspapers if they have legitimate pedagogical concerns. According to the First Amendment Center website, material can be censored by school administrators if it is “ungrammatical, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences.” Universities have tried to cut funding for student newspapers as a form of censorship. Shockingly enough, newspaper theft has become a common form of censorship. California, Colorado, and Maryland have laws that penalize the theft of free newspapers.
There are statutes in place in different states that work to make sure that students’ rights to free speech are not violated. Student conduct codes and administrative regulations on speech will continue to be tested. Schools will be held accountable to explain the justifications for their limits on speech. The American people believe that free speech should be protected. Now and in the future people, lawyers and lawmakers from across the country will work to prevent regulations of viewpoints and expressions in schools. Freedom of speech should be granted to all regardless of that speech being unfavorable.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 22nd print edition.
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