In his message to the [UC Davis] Campus Community, Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter addresses the protests against the hate speech made by guest speakers, Milo Yiannopoulo and Martin Shkreli. Hate speech can be defined as the “attack of a person or group on the basis of race, gender, sex,…” A student group, Davis College Republicans, invited the speakers but canceled shortly after due to the complaints of Yiannopoulo and Shkreli’s controversial arguments as “offensive and inappropriate”. Hexter, however, argues that these two men had a right to be heard under the First Amendment. Hate speech is a force that drives open-debate and “[we] should listen to and critically engage in opposing views, especially ones that many of us find offensive.” In his speech, Hexter quotes the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who “believes that hate speech can effectively counter bad attitudes and possibly change them.” Hate speech under the First Amendment allows those who are hateful to publicize their beliefs and thus, we can expose the prejudices rather than suppressing them. Groups do not necessarily have to agree with what speakers say, but being open and respectful to other’s opinions. I agree that hate speech should be permitted because when a person’s freedom of expression is restricted, it discourages personal growth that ultimately fosters changes in society. People cannot grow unless they are free to formulate their beliefs through discussion, and criticisms.
In 2011, the Westboro Baptist Church picketed a military funeral with signs displaying messages belittling the dead officer; “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,’ ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers,’ and ‘Don’t Pray for the USA.’ Many Americans found the signs hateful and offensive, but the Supreme Court sided with the church, justifying funeral picking under the First Amendment rights. According to the Supreme Court, people must tolerate hate speech because it complies with the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Tolerance of hate speech not only upholds everyone’s right to express their speech, hateful or not but also allows society to become aware of and respond to hateful speech. In response, many people criticized the church for its hateful language and actions. Megan Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of Westboro Church founder Fred Phelps Sr., began running the Westboro Twitter account; ‘They started asking questions and digging into our theology. … As they were able to find these contradictions and present them to me,’ Phelps-Roper says. ‘I understood that we could be wrong about something… That was the beginning of the end for me. I had this unshakable faith and it had been shaken.’ In 2012, Phelps-Roper left the Westboro Baptist Church because the twitter comments forced her to reevaluate her family’s beliefs. As a result, she no longer wanted part of that community. Raper’s openness towards other people’s opinions on twitter and the realization of how immoral her family’s actions are allowed her to personally change her attitudes towards life. By allowing people an opportunity to hear and converse with others, freedom of discussion promote change in bad influences.
When hate is publicized, people can see the problem at hand and take action to change certain issues. An example is during the 2016 presidential campaign, a recording of President Trump commenting about how his “celebrity status allowed him to force himself on women” was released. This prompted numerous women to come forward about his past inappropriate conduct. In response, Trump dismissed the recordings which contributed to the Women’s March. This was the protest, after the inauguration of Trump to ‘send a bold message to our new, and the world that women’s rights are human rights’. Trump’s public degradation of women stirred the general public to organize counter-protests. Many women go as far as to denounce the president with signs; one woman held a sign saying “Watch out Trump, My generation votes next”. Although Trump makes derogative words about women, he is allowed to due to the justification of the first amendment. However, since he outwardly says it, people can recognize the problem. The exchange of ideas through hate speech is an opportunity to learn, bringing public awareness. Awareness facilitates efforts to fight hatred by exposing which members of society must be discredited.
The first amendment is important to keep the government from regulating conversations that drives change in the world. Opinions and ideas cannot be immune to criticism. To continue this change, we need to embrace the controversial nature of the First Amendment. Censorship on college campuses such as the guest speakers at UC Davis deprives the rights of students who invited them. Hexter writes “UC Davis acknowledges Milo Yiannopoulo and Martin Shkreli as guests and appreciates the opportunity that this event provides us to hear and evaluate our support for freedom of expression”. As we improve ourselves through the observation of hate speech, we can reaffirm our own beliefs. To do so, we must understand, appreciate, and articulate other’s opinions with more depth. Democracy depends on people being free to express, openly debate, and criticize opposing viewpoints. For society to progress, people must be allowed all freedoms including hate speech to be corrected through discussion.
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