The First Amendment to the Constitution has come to epitomize the American ideal of personal liberty and freedom. The Founding Fathers' mandate that "Congress shall make no law" inhibiting freedom of speech, religion, assembly or the press.
But surrounding the First Amendment's free speech guarantee is the following question: does the Constitution protect every type of expression equally, or can forms of speech deemed harmful be restricted?
I think that speech that promotes hatred or prejudice toward a particular race and ethnicity should be restricted. Such speech, called "hate speech" oppresses and marginalizes entire groups.
The University of Michigan and many other colleges across the U.S. enacted "speech codes" that bar the utterance of hateful sentiments directed against people on account of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion or creed.
Hate speech is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in the U.S. (but also in France, in Iran and in many other countries in the world).
In the U.S. many analysts warn that banning or punishing hate speech would violate the First Amendment. They say that to ban hate speech would undermine one of the core values of the constitution: that all U.S. citizens should be equally entitled to voice their opinions.
But the case Chaplinsky and Beauharnais left open the possibility that what is today called hate speech could be considered group libel or a type of fighting words.
Fighting words, the court explained, "are of such slight social value...that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality." The court added, "The right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances."