Can a College Discipline Offensive Speech?

By Samantha Grant

A student policy at Carl Sandburg College in Illinois may prove to be a violation of the First Amendment.

The college’s student code of conduct states that any student who “is verbally abusive; threatens; uses offensive language; intimidates; engages in bullying, cyber bullying, or hazing; [or] uses hate speech, disparaging comments, epithets, or slurs which create a hostile environment” can face disciplinary proceedings from administrators.

The vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Sam Harris, regards this situation as a target for lawsuits.

“A public school certainly cannot punish students for any and all ‘offensive language’ or ‘disparaging comments,’ nor is ‘hate speech’ a legally cognizable category of speech unprotected by the First Amendment,” said Harris.

In response, college spokesperson Aaron Frey explained how the university is not trying to limit ability to speak freely but rather is trying to ensure that students speak in a respectful, non-violent way.

“[The administration] finds it important that those ideas are exchanged in a manner that is respectful and free of speech that may be deemed abusive or hateful in order to maintain a welcoming environment for our students.”




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