The First Amendment protects even hate speech
The First Amendment is unique in its protections of speech, especially its protections of hate speech, which is harmful to many groups of people in the US.
On Thursday, April 16, students from a Pittsburgh-area high school organized an “anti-gay day” in response to the “Day of Silence,” an event “calling attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools,” according to People Magazine.
The students, wearing flannel to signify their counter-protest, wrote “anti-gay” on their hands and bullied homosexual students, posting Bible verses on their lockers and calling them sexually explicit slurs.
One of the students, Zoe Johnson, recounts the day to Buzzfeed. “I got called a dyke, a faggot. They were calling us every horrible name you could think of.”
“This is a troubling turn of events,” said Sue Kerr, the editor-in-chief of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents. “These kids didn’t just spontaneously pull a homophobic move. They have a plan. They have coordinated outfits.”
According to the local news station, many students had claimed that they were now afraid to go to school because of the harassment they received due to their sexual orientation. Johnson even took to Facebook, saying “This is why so many students hate going to school.”
Another student, Nicole Wagers, stated, “It’s sad to me. It’s a high school. We should feel safe here. We don’t, and it’s starting to get worse.” The superintendent of the school, Dr. Erica Kolat, agreed with the student in a public announcement, stating, “We resolve to ensure that all children can grow and learn in a safe, supportive environment free from discrimination.”
Unfortunately, hate speech like this is protected under the First Amendment. In a 1992 Supreme Court case, R.A.V. v. St. Paul, a city ordinance banning “symbol, object, appellation, characterization, or graffiti…that could arouse anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, or gender” was deemed unconstitutional. This is because “content-based regulations are presumptively invalid,” according to a University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law.
Not only are the students allowed to hold an “anti-gay day” under constitutional law, but if they were to be suspended or expelled, they could sue and, most likely, win under constitutional law on the basis of “content-based regulations.”
By following constitutional law, lawmakers and, in this case, teachers value freedom of speech, including hate speech, more than a safe learning environment. By allowing students to write “anti-gay” on their hands and raise a noose in a classroom, school authorities are allowing a threat to a substantial population.
The Supreme Court needs to revise its precedent in order to accommodate for any population, including the LGBT population. No one should feel threatened in school, the workplace, or any sort of environment.