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Hate Speech Codes

The most recent free-speech issue to hit college campuses involves so-called hate speech codes. These are codes passed by colleges that restrict speech considered offensive to other groups on campus, particularly speech that is believed to be racist or sexist.

While a case involving these hate speech codes has not yet reached the Supreme Court, lower courts have been undecided about allowing them to stand. For example, in Doe v. University of Michigan, in 1993, the United States Court for the Eastern District of Michigan struck down a policy passed by the University of Michigan regulating hate speech. The court found the policy overbroad and unconstitutionally vague. The university could not regulate speech “because it disagreed with the ideas or the messages sought to be conveyed,” said the court, “nor because the speech was found to be offensive, even gravely so, by large numbers of people.” Added the court: “These principles acquire a special significance in the university setting, where the free and unfettered interplay of competing views is essential to the institution’s educational mission.” This has been the fate of speech codes that have been litigated, and as of this writing, not one has passed muster at the federal court level.

Inside Hate Speech Codes