There is no blanket “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment – unless one happens to attend a particular public university in southern Colorado.
Ft. Lewis College in Durango has a policy banning students from posting materials on campus that include “unprotected expressions” such as “hate speech.” For maintaining such a policy, the school has earned the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s “Speech Code of the Month” for March.
Laura Beltz is FIRE’s senior program officer for policy reform. She explains how the policy defines – or actually doesn’t define – hate speech.
“[It includes] unprotected expressions such as libel, obscenities – those are both exceptions to the First Amendment; and then it says, ‘or hate speech,'” Beltz quotes. “But hate speech isn’t one of those categorical exceptions to the First Amendment because a lot of speech that is subjectively hateful is constitutionally protected.”
According to FIRE, a ban on hate speech could prohibit anything from a “Black Lives Matter” poster to a “Blue Lives Matter” message, for example.
Beltz adds that a separate policy applies only to residence halls and dorm rooms. “That [policy] says students have to follow this one when they post in their dorm room,” she tells AFN.
“So, if you just put up a poster in your own dorm room that someone thinks is hateful, it could be banned under this policy.”
Further, Beltz says administrators are given a wide latitude on determining policy, which could have a chilling effect on students’ free speech, as they will assume it will be applied to restrict anything an administrator applying the policy finds hateful.