That should go without saying, since freedom of speech and free inquiry is supposed to be what college is all about. But the recent spate of violent student protests, from the University of California at Berkeley to Middlebury College in Vermont, have been met with a collective shrug from an alarming number of college students, professors, and administrators who seem to be under the impression that violence is okay so long as its purpose is to silence “hate speech.”
By hate speech, they mean ideas and opinions that run afoul of progressive pieties. Do you believe abortion is the taking of human life? That’s hate speech. Think transgenderism is a form of mental illness? Hate speech. Concerned about illegal immigration? Believe in the right to bear arms? Support President Donald Trump? All hate speech.
But in fact, there is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment. The answer to the question, “Where does free speech stop and hate speech begin?” is this: nowhere. For the purposes of the First Amendment, there is no difference between free speech and hate speech. Ideas and opinions that progressive students and professors find offensive or “hateful” are just as protected by the Bill of Rights as anti-Trump slogans chanted at a campus protest.
‘Fighting Words’ Are Not Hate Speech
There are, of course, certain kinds of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment. But those have nothing to do with hate speech, which has no legal definition. For example, there’s an exception for “fighting words,” which the courts have defined as a face-to-face insult directed at a specific person for the purpose of provoking a fight.