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Freedom Of Speech Essay, Research Paper

Charles Lawrence says that there are strong reasons why some racist speech should be protected. Among these reasons is that tolerance of racist speech should be taught as a value, leaving government regulation out of the picture, and forcing society to deal with the problems by itself. But when free speech conflicts with the elimination of racism, according to Lawrence there is a problem. He highlights the conflicts of legislation by describing current results, i.e., making minorities second-class citizens.

Brown vs. Board of Education says that segregated schools were unequal because of the segregation message that was conveyed; blacks weren t good enough for white schools. Using this same principle, we need to eliminate certain symbols and signs that show the inferiority of blacks, and he argues that some racist speech should not be protected.

There are many clauses to the First Amendment that ban certain speech. Fighting Words, or words that are likely to incite violence or inflict injury, are examples of banned speech. Therefore, insults that are given face-to-face are not protected under the First Amendment. Racial insults are not designed to do anything but injure the victim or victims. They are a preemptive strike that do not allow for rebuttal. This is because minorities believe they are likely to lose if they respond to these situations, so they tend to remain silent and submissive.

Racist speech cannot be protected if the victims have no other choice but to listen. If the speech can be avoided, then the speech is protected. This is why racial posters and banners in college dormitories should not be protected. Dormitories and other college areas can be considered common places, and there is no escaping the speech within these areas. Equal educational opportunity is evidence for why speech should be banned in these areas. A minority suffers in education when he or she must endure racial injury every time they walk across campus. This is why only announced speech or rallies could be protected, allowing for avoidance or countering of the offensive speech.

Not everyone has endured racist, misogynist, or homophobic speech. Everyone has not experienced victimization by this kind of speech, nor have they seen the harm it causes. It is hard to understand the kind of pain that is caused. In Brown vs. Board of Education, it is stated that segregation affected the hearts and the minds of black children in a way unlikely ever to be undone. It also said that black children did not have an equal opportunity to learn if they had to be subjected to the humiliation and pain of segregation. This is similar to the sexual harassment decision by the Supreme Court to ban such practices due to the creation of a hostile work environment. Accordingly, racial harassment often causes deep emotional pain.

It will be no trouble to draw the line on some sorts of racial speech. It has been done before with little or no backlash. For example, courts have decided that speech that is obscene, disseminates official secrets, defames or libels another person, or that is used to create a monopoly or conspiracy is not protected. Why couldn t another change be added to the list of unprotected speech, especially since it would better society as a whole?

There are a few counter-arguments that Lawrence anticipated in his essay. Among these is the argument that states that freedom of speech is the core of the democratic system, and that it would be impossible to suppress certain kinds of speech without catching other kinds of speech in the same net. He responds to this counter-argument by saying that the argument is about which basic right (freedom of speech or equality) is more fundamental. There is a constant battle between freedom of speech and the desire to further the cause of equality. However, this argument cannot be furthered without the acknowledgment that racist speech causes real harm, thus negating any sense of equality.

The other counter-argument that he anticipates is the argument that the best cure for bad speech is good. This means the concept of equality is supreme to freedom of speech and will ultimately come out on top. He responds to this by saying that this is a weak argument and for this to work, everybody involved in the fight must not be doubtful of the fight. There has to be ways to offer assistance to those whose speech is dulled because of racial harassment.

Lawrence argues in paragraph 4 that the case of Brown vs. Board of Education is a landmark case that has a huge impact on the freedom of speech arguments. He says in his essay:

The landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education is not a case that we normally think of as a case about speech. But Brown can be broadly read as articulating the principle of equal citizenship. Brown held that segregated schools were inherently unequal because of the message that segregation conveyed that black children were an untouchable caste, unfit to go to school with white children. If we understand the necessity of eliminating the system of signs and symbols that signal the inferiority of blacks, then we should hesitate before proclaiming that all racist speech that stops short of physical violence must be defended. (P. 4)

This is a very logical argument. He discusses how racist speech in areas where people have no other choice to go, stifles the educational process through its segregation message, and that is why it is illegal. Lawrence brings in a case that is very famous, and uses it as a precedent for his argument. This case had nothing to do with free speech, but Lawrence interprets it in very clever ways to show why it is relevant. Using a seemingly unrelated case as precedent to prove his point on this issue is an intriguing approach. It holds up very strongly.,w and is very difficult to argue against. This was his goal and he accomplished it very well. His tone is very logical. Lawrence was speaking to the American Civil Liberties Union, trying to give logical reasons why his ideas were relevant. Using a case like Brown vs. Board of Education to prove a point is a very smart tactic and he captured his audience with this argument. Although this argument is based on the law (Lawrence is a professor of law), the argument also appeals to the emotion of the listeners. He is trying to persuade the ACLU; therefore, he needs to appeal to the emotions at some level. He uses this case as precedent, but his argument is also geared toward the idea that blacks were wronged in the past. He is appealing to emotion and the law to get his point across.

Hentoff uses a very strong argument to counter Lawrence s argument. He says that the educational process is not stifled by racial speech but actually improved. He argues that individuals that are protected from bad ideas never learn to cope with the bad ideas. Hentoff argues in paragraph 10 that placing such ideas into remission only makes them stronger and more dangerous. He says that students need to learn for themselves how to identify and deal with these situations. In this argument, Hentoff assumes that everybody has a choice whether to be around the racist speech or not. This is an assumption that weakens the argument. He has a point, where he says that the protected students wouldn t learn about bad ideas, but where is the line drawn? Which kind of education is more important? Is it ethos education or pathos education?

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