The Great Free Speech Debate

Drawing the line between free speech and hate speech

Griffin Ell / art Director

A recent article published by The Equinox talks about a Keene State College student posting a TikTok video at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement which spurred a petition to have her penalized for her actions. The student was suspended in June after the video was posted which depicted a photo of a cotton picking machine with the text, “Introducing John Deere’s new multi-lane protestor digestor.”

The Equinox doesn’t stand with the student’s video and thinks it was inappropriate, offensive and vulgar. However, the Equinox believes that every person is entitled to their own opinions. It is our understanding that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects their freedom of speech and there is nothing that the college can do legally. The Equinox thinks that a person should have their right to speak their mind without affecting their college experience. The First Amendment protects all speech regardless of whether or not people agree with it.

According to the United Nations, there is no international legal definition of hate speech, however, this does not mean that it does not exist. According to the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, hate speech is “understood as any kind of communication in speech, writing or behavior, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are… based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, color, descent, gender or other identity factor.” Free speech, however, is protected by The Constitution of the United States under the First Amendment and is defined as, according to Merriam Webster, “The legal right to express one’s opinions freely.” There are limitations that come with this as freedom of speech does not include actions that would harm others. It is important to note that to this day the United States Supreme Court has struggled to determine what exactly constitutes protected speech.

Even though the college legally and constitutionally did whatever they could, public institutions cannot take away a person’s freedom of speech regardless of how offensive people find it. Since the post, clearly, did not “attack” as stated in the UN definition of hate speech, The Equinox believes the punishment given to the student was not warranted. As a government entity, the First Amendment applies and protects speech, regardless of how someone feels about the speech.

The Equinox believes that hate speech exists, however, it is difficult to define, and there is a fine line between what constitutes hate speech and free speech. Something that one person says can be interpreted as hateful to one person, and not to the other, that is where the difficulty exists in trying to define hate speech. The Equinox thinks that hate speech is a subjective topic. Speech can hold different meanings depending on when and where it is said.

The Equinox thinks that there is no way to say if one’s opinion is right or wrong. So, it is not right to silence someone’s opinion because you disagree with it. Even though Keene State’s and The Equinox’s values don’t align with the video posted by the student, there is nothing legally that Keene State can do against it.