Free Speech on Campus

Judges have long ruled that the First Amendment of the American constitution protects many forms of hateful speech. So the official at the University of Missouri who thinks that “the First Amendment does not give people a free pass to go around saying hateful things” is mistaken (“Of slavery and swastikas”, January 2nd). In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled against the official’s very own university in Papish v University of Missouri Curators. In that case it overturned the university’s disciplining of a graduate student for using profane language and depicting policemen raping the Statue of Liberty.

The court declared that the “dissemination of ideas, no matter how offensive to good taste, on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of ‘conventions of decency’.” In 1993, a federal appeals-court ruling applied this principle to overturn the punishment given to a fraternity at George Mason University for a racist, sexist “ugly woman” skit. It decided that the First Amendment generally protects even racist speech on college campuses.

Senior attorney

Competitive Enterprise Institute

Washington, DC

Originally posted at The Economist