Why is hate speech still protected in 2018?

by Julie Cappiello, Staff Writer

White supremacist groups are trying to recruit college students on campuses nationwide. These groups are notorious for their spread of hate speech, but the First Amendment still protects them in 2018.

The Anti-Defemation League reports 147 incidents of white supremacist activity on college campuses. Groups such as Patriot Front and Identity Evropa spread the ideologies that white Europeans are a superior race, and that other races are inferior. Sometimes self-identified as the Alt-Right, white supremacist groups are neo-Nazis, and they are dangerous to college campuses and the diverse communities within.

On Jan. 11, at University of California, San Diego, campus police received a report of a member of the white supremacist group, Identity Evropa, disturbing a class. San Diego State had issues with the same group in 2016.

The group’s current leader, Patrick Casey, is a San Diego State alumnus.

In November of 2017, Identity Evropa held a private meeting on SDSU’s campus. The freedom to assemble is a right under the First Amendment — even the assembly of a group that promotes one race as superior and advocates for the end of multiculturalism. It is disturbing that this protected assembly occurred on SDSU’s campus.

According to the Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute, fighting words are not protected by the First Amendment. However, the scope of what constitutes as fighting words is vague. In a 1949 case — Terminiello v. Chicago — Arthur Terminiello, a Catholic priest, had been giving a speech to the Christian Veterans of America when he criticized various racial groups. This led to protests the Chicago police department couldn’t contain. Through this case, the Supreme Court determined fighting words express a clear and present danger, and thus are not protected by the First Amendment.

The problem with this definition is that it leaves fighting words up to interpretation.

The same goes for hate speech. On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled there is no hate speech clause in the First Amendment. In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said, “Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate.’” 

These clauses allows groups like Identity Evropa to express their hate for minority groups. On Jan. 28, the group hung a banner from the Bay Bridge in San Francisco with the words, “Danger, Sanctuary City Ahead.” On their website the group described sanctuary cities as “belligerent” who “harbor dangerous criminals.” San Diego is a sanctuary city in which about 170,000 undocumented residents live. About 40,000 of San Diego’s residents are DACA recipients.

America prides itself on its freedoms provided under the First Amendment, but hate speech should not be tolerated. This is not a call to limit or restrict the First Amendment. However, hate speech should be added to the scope of fighting words. It is not the words themselves that are detrimental to society, but the groups who advocate for and spread them.