On December 9th, a reporter for the Echo spotted a message on the freedom walls condemning anti-semitism that had been tampered with. The message that had originally read “Together Against Antisemistism” was painted over to read “Together Against Semitism”.
A week later, an alt-right message was painted on the same wall, reading “it’s okay to be white.” This slogan has been used by Neo-nazi groups to promote white supremacy and anti-semitic practices.
The concept of free speech is an essential freedom that most Americans cherish. Most people agree that free speech is key to a healthy and functioning democracy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t restrictions to free speech. In the 1942 Supreme Court case , the court ruled that “there are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech…these include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or fighting words those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”
was another case the court used to limit free speech. The court ruled that “the states should retain substantial latitude in their efforts to enforce a legal remedy for defamatory falsehood injurious to the reputation of a private individual.” In other words, states have the right to create laws protecting individuals against defamatory speech.
The idea that all speech is protected under the First Amendment clearly doesn’t stand. Additionally, the University’s policy on free speech states “the university will promulgate reasonable rules and regulations surrounding the use of its campus facilities with the dual goals of protecting the First Amendment rights of members of its community and ensuring that the safety and security of persons on and around campus is paramount.”
When the message “it’s okay to be white” was originally reported by the Echo, criticisms started circling. The most prominent being that condemning this message meant that it’s not okay to be white. This is far from the truth. The slogan “it’s okay to be white” is often used to promote white supremacy and anti-semitic practices. The message was used with the clear purpose of intimidating the Jewish community at EMU. The way the message is used and the meaning behind it is what received condemnation by the EMU Student Government.
It is important to promote freedom of speech and the exchange of ideas. The discussion of differing ideas and allowing for critical analysis on speech is important, especially in an academic setting. Restrictions must be in place, however, to protect the safety of all communities on campus.
The messages on the freedom walls represent dangerous ideologies. They promote the degradation and discrimination of an entire group of people based on nothing but prejudiced ideas. This isn’t about censoring speech we don’t agree with. This is about protecting our community and making it clear that everyone is welcome here. Any speech with the purpose of excluding a community on campus should not be protected by the University.
It must be made clear that at Eastern Michigan University we respect and promote freedom of speech, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t restrictions. Hate speech has no place on our campus.