On Monday, Nov. 13, Dr. Paul Grosswiler from the Communication and Journalism (CMJ) department gave a presentation titled “Hate Speech Is Free Speech,” where he outlined common misconceptions about the laws on free speech and what this means to American citizens.
While the free speech clause in the first amendment was established in 1791, it was not defended and brought to court in 1931 in the Stromberg v. California decision, which put forth a precedent that states cannot infringe on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression.
Some gray area is placed on free speech laws regarding universities, and Grosswiler touched on this in his presentation by bringing up signage that has been posted on off-campus student living facilities both on the University of Maine campus as well as other colleges.
In many countries, hate speech is illegal. Grosswiler added, “if Donald Trump lived in Canada, he would probably be on trial for some of the things that he has said.” which include one of his more recent controversial tweets: “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend — and maybe someday that will happen!” (from the Twitter account @realDonaldTrump)
“(The speech) is often over-broad, it means that it is sweeping up protected speech while trying to get rid of unprotected speech. You have to target unprotected speech, they’re usually vague, what defines an insult? A code like this that would control speech is what,” Grosswiler said.
“Hate speech is free speech, and this includes the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church and burning the flag. In a 1989 Supreme Court decision, it was legal so long as you don’t steal the flag,” Grosswiler added.
While the language that had been displayed on various apartments around Orono during the Hearty Maine Hello were found to be offensive and violated the student conduct code, they were technically protected under the first amendment’s right to free speech. The signs read various phrases, including, “Mother Daughter Drop-Off” and “Honk if she’s 18”
“The first amendment defends free speech which has killed every speech code at universities. There have been a lot of attempts to establish a Title IX/hostile environment defense but it still has not satisfied the first amendment. Of course universities and police can do what they want to do,” Grosswiler said.
Toward the end of the presentation, Grosswiler set up a quiz for the audience to test their knowledge on free speech. In this quiz, there was one prompt that displayed free speech, and one that took it too far and was not protected speech.
The next CMJ talk will be held on Nov. 27 in the CMJ conference room in Dunn Hall.