www.mozilla.com Weather Central
Voices
Headlines

General misconduct -3/5/2015, 10:48 AM

Remembering Washington school -3/5/2015, 10:48 AM

Raping culture -3/5/2015, 10:46 AM

Summer school -3/5/2015, 10:45 AM

Raiding KDOT -3/4/2015, 9:22 AM

Attending the Western Farm Show -3/4/2015, 9:22 AM

Education funding -3/4/2015, 9:22 AM

Tornado awareness -3/4/2015, 9:22 AM

Farmers and property taxes -3/3/2015, 9:51 AM

What's next after Turnaround Day? -3/3/2015, 9:51 AM

Giuliani, once heroic, now simply foolish -3/2/2015, 9:34 AM

Money: The first primary -3/2/2015, 9:33 AM

Kansas' fate is more tragic than comic -3/1/2015, 12:43 PM

Tweeting -- and setting nation's 'chat agenda' -3/1/2015, 12:43 PM

Flying Hays, again -3/1/2015, 12:43 PM

The cancer of multiculturalism -2/27/2015, 9:14 AM

Supreme Court justice selection -2/27/2015, 9:14 AM

Welcome to Hays -2/27/2015, 9:14 AM

Sentencing reforms make us smarter on crime -2/26/2015, 9:23 AM

Presidential candidates -2/26/2015, 9:23 AM

Kochs and unions -2/26/2015, 9:23 AM

A future of guns -2/25/2015, 9:43 AM

Lesser prairie chicken -2/25/2015, 9:42 AM

Radical Islam -2/25/2015, 9:42 AM

Agriculture can do the job -2/25/2015, 9:42 AM

Brownback's first date OK -2/24/2015, 8:59 AM

Institutional racism? -2/24/2015, 8:50 AM

Continuing to march -2/24/2015, 8:50 AM

Going without meat -2/23/2015, 9:55 AM

Toward a transhuman future? -2/23/2015, 9:55 AM

Schools still struggle with religion -2/23/2015, 9:55 AM

Sacking the school finance formula -2/22/2015, 5:45 PM

Beheadings and Bill O'Reilly -2/22/2015, 5:45 PM

-2/20/2015, 10:00 AM

Kansas the Fruitcake State -2/20/2015, 9:59 AM

We know the drill -2/20/2015, 9:59 AM

The credit hour is not dead -2/19/2015, 10:13 AM

Picking judges -2/19/2015, 10:13 AM

No gatekeepers -2/19/2015, 10:12 AM

Drone warfare -2/18/2015, 9:46 AM

Fire remains vital management tool -2/18/2015, 9:46 AM

Moore stands on the wrong side of history -2/18/2015, 9:46 AM

School board elections -2/17/2015, 10:27 AM

Supporting Washington -2/17/2015, 10:27 AM

Saving Washington -2/17/2015, 10:26 AM

Free tuition -2/17/2015, 10:26 AM

Gov. Brownback outlines education allotments -2/16/2015, 9:22 AM

The new 'normal' family? -2/16/2015, 9:22 AM

What's best for education -2/16/2015, 9:22 AM

Tourism sparks Kansas economy -2/16/2015, 9:22 AM

Worry about what's important -2/15/2015, 4:15 PM

You can't make this up, and, well, you shouldn't -2/15/2015, 4:15 PM

Unequal Kansas -2/15/2015, 4:15 PM

Fairness and justice -2/13/2015, 9:44 AM

Overcriminalization of America -2/13/2015, 12:50 PM

Reconsider repurposing -2/12/2015, 9:45 AM

Secretary of fraud -2/12/2015, 9:45 AM

Spontaneous order -2/12/2015, 9:45 AM

Elementary 'efficiencies' -2/12/2015, 9:45 AM

Gift of gab? -2/11/2015, 10:04 AM

Gambling with KPERS -2/11/2015, 9:55 AM

Out of jail, but not yet free -2/11/2015, 9:54 AM

No eggs for breakfast? -2/11/2015, 9:54 AM

Consequences of your vaccination decision -2/10/2015, 9:11 AM

What's in a name -2/10/2015, 9:11 AM

Measles outbreak -2/10/2015, 9:11 AM

Mental disability is not a fad -2/9/2015, 9:12 AM

New genes: angels or demons? -2/9/2015, 9:12 AM

'Can't anybody play this game?' -2/8/2015, 4:43 PM

Vaccines, science and the limits of freedom -2/8/2015, 4:43 PM

Tourney moving -2/8/2015, 6:34 PM

Tragic school stories -2/6/2015, 10:02 AM

Social Darwinist 'Christianity' -- Chapter 4 -2/6/2015, 10:02 AM

Fiscal insanity -2/5/2015, 9:45 AM

Parasites all around -2/5/2015, 9:45 AM

Bigger dictionaries -2/5/2015, 9:45 AM

Something obscene about civil asset forfeitures -2/4/2015, 10:05 AM

Feeding children -2/4/2015, 10:05 AM

Stop fowl play -2/4/2015, 10:04 AM

The 'Kansas Experiment' -2/3/2015, 9:48 AM

Free college -2/3/2015, 9:48 AM

Gun rights -2/3/2015, 9:48 AM

Clearly, it's still a mess -2/3/2015, 9:48 AM

Public business -2/3/2015, 9:48 AM

The governor's budget -2/2/2015, 9:14 AM

Committee hearings ongoing -2/2/2015, 9:13 AM

Pontiff wrong on freedom of expression -2/2/2015, 9:12 AM

Indiana's 'JustIn' thankfully on the way out -2/2/2015, 9:12 AM

Coming home in an unexpected manner -2/1/2015, 2:17 PM

The myth of the monolith -2/1/2015, 2:17 PM

Gifted students -2/1/2015, 2:17 PM

Defense against demagogues -1/30/2015, 9:44 AM

Kansas is at risk -1/30/2015, 9:44 AM

Football injuries -1/30/2015, 9:44 AM

A note on primitivism -1/29/2015, 9:55 AM

Owning ideas -1/29/2015, 9:55 AM

There's more -1/29/2015, 9:55 AM

Kansas' birthday -1/29/2015, 9:55 AM

Back to the future, locked and loaded -1/28/2015, 9:29 AM

Compromise -- make it happen -1/28/2015, 9:29 AM

myTown Calendar

SPOTLIGHT
[var top_story_head]

Time for more speech in the face of bias, bigotry

Published on -2/2/2014, 2:30 PM

Printer-friendly version
E-Mail This Story

One of the most difficult times for the public image of the First Amendment is when its protection for freedom of expression means sheltering speech most people find offensive, degrading or vile.

Arizona State University just cut ties with a fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, over a party the local chapter hosted on Martin Luther King Day. At that party, based on photos later posted on social websites, frat members and others dressed in what's been described as "gang clothing," flashed gang hand signals and drank from watermelon cups.

The university also was considering requests to expel students who participated in the offensive behavior, though some community activists properly are having second thoughts about that demand.

Racist conduct and offensive images, particularly on a day memorializing a man who fought and died in the service of racial equality are, without doubt, worthy of condemnation. And ASU likely is within its rights to dismiss the TKE from its list of affiliated fraternities.

But there's also little doubt the students' "speech" -- as repugnant as it is -- is protected by the First Amendment. Better that the university community and the community-at-large use their own First Amendment rights to loudly condemn racist stereotypes and thoughtless insults.

Government can restrict what we say only in narrow circumstances: Public safety, true threats and speech that could incite immediate violence are among the limited reasons. In most cases, it should be the court of public opinion rather than the court of law that passes judgment and reacts to our speech and ideas.

Only a generation ago, some universities expelled students who offended many in their communities by speaking out on what campus officials thought was an inappropriate topic, racial equality, including some courageous young people who participated in the historic Freedom Rides a half-century ago.

There's no such positive message in the antics at Arizona State. But we demand government to be viewpoint and content-neutral when it comes to freedom of expression. The First Amendment doesn't allow for a government agency that decides "this speech is OK, this is not."

Here's another approach to fixing what's broken at ASU: Just a few days before the party, a colleague and I welcomed to the Newseum the attendees to the National Association of Black Journalists annual Hall of Fame event. Among the inductees this year: A soft-spoken photographer, Moses Newson, whose iconic images documented the high points of the civil rights movement 50 years ago. Newson was riding on one of the first Freedom Ride buses when, on May 14, 1961, it was attacked outside Anniston, Ala., by a gang of racist thugs who broke windows, beat the Freedom Riders and torched the bus.

Newson stayed on the bus as long as possible, documenting the violence, but finally had to tuck his camera, for safety, under a seat before fleeing for his life. As the Freedom Riders left the bus, they were attacked and beaten. Months later, the bus company mailed him the camera -- a burned and melted hulk. That camera is on display among the civil rights exhibits upstairs from where Newson was honored for his courage in documenting the great moments of the civil rights movement.

More effective than expulsion of the misguided and uninformed would be a program in which TKE members and their party guests learned about Newson and the Freedom Riders, studied the meaning of the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and examined the history of the civil rights movement, and its use of all five freedoms of the First Amendment to change a nation.

Gaining an understanding of how freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition can and did bring positive change to our society might not entirely erase the sting of a night's thoughtless antics and insults. But it would be a good start.

Gene Policinski is chief operating officer of Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the Institute's First Amendment Center.

gpolicinski@newseum.org

digg delicious facebook stumbleupon google Newsvine
More News and Photos

Associated Press Videos