DO AMERICANS have a right to utter slurs and epithets abou another person's race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, disability ethnic origin? Yes, U.S. Judge Robert W. Warren ruled, throwing out a "speech code" adopted by the University of nTC Wisconsin. The code penalized students whose language created a "hostile learning environment" for other students. The code was challenged by a campus newspaper, aided by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The university, one of several with similar codes, felt its restraints were legal under the "fighting-words doctrine." That ruling, adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1942, denies free speech protection to words and phrases which by their very nature tend to incite violence. However, a law school dean in Texas, agreeing with the judge, noted that no fighting-words case has been upheld in 40 years.
While racists, sexists and homophobes may be despicable, Judge Warren's decision makes sense. The right to hate, and to express one's hatred orally, must be tolerated if a society is to be truly free.