Colleges are obsessed with ‘free speech vs. hate speech’ workshops. Are they helpful?

DCNFRob Shimshock, DCNF

Judging by events hosted at universities, it would seem like numerous students at the venerable institutions do not know the difference between free speech and hate speech.

Image: WikiMedia

Schools across the country are hosting discussions on the issue, which has formed the bedrock of protests by Antifa and left wing student activists who attempt to silence mostly conservative speakers on campus.

“At this talk, we will define the legal meanings of the two terms, explore how the terms are used (and sometimes abused), and learn how the tensions of the two terms play out on university campuses,” the University of Illinois at Chicago states in the description for its March “hate speech vs. free speech” coffee hour discussion. “Also, we will learn how the University currently responds to these matters through our U&I Care initiative as well as the UIC Student Conduct Process,” the university wrote.

UIC invited Palestine Legal’s director Dima Khalidi, a pro-Palestinian legal counselor, and its own assistant dean DuJuan Smith.

Cornell University’s Tuesday workshop featured a dialogue between NYU law professor Jeremy Waldron, who authored “The Harm in Hate Speech,” and New York Law School professor and former ACLU president Nadine Strossen, who wrote “Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship.”

“Along with many experts, I always put the term ‘hate speech’ in quotation marks to underscore that it is not a legal term of art, with a specific legal definition,” Strossen told TheDCNF. The former ACLU president said that while the Supreme Court has regularly ruled that hate speech is constitutionally protected, it “has recognized that hate speech – along with speech conveying any message – may be punished when, in particular contexts, it directly causes specific imminent serious harm. For example … punishable harassment, incitement, or threats.”

But in any other context, “hate speech is political speech,” stressed Strossen, “and hence entitled to the highest constitutional protection – no matter how odious such views might be among no matter how high a percentage of the public.”

Fordham University anthropology professor Dr. Ayala Fader sent TheDCNF a copy of the school’s Saturday free speech/hate speech workshop. The event features various professors and scholars discussing campus activism, anti-racism education, and speech codes.

Image: WikiMedia

Fordham’s keynote speaker is David Cole, who has served as progressive outlet The Nation’s legal affairs correspondent for 20 years. The school will also host scholar Nicholas DeGenova, who said U.S. patriotism is inseparably linked to white supremacy and that “the only true heroes are those who find ways to defeat the U.S. military.” Hamilton College anthropology professor Mariam Durrani, who believes that “obviously, anti-Black, anti-Native, and anti-Latinx racism pervades our educational systems,” will discuss speech codes.

TheDCNF reached out to other hosts, speakers, or sponsors of the UIC, Cornell, UMN, and Fordham workshops but received no comment in time for press.

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