Home>Articles>Editorial: Hate Speech Takes A Back Seat To The First Amendment

A protester holds a sign calling for an end to genocide while attending a protest in support of the Palestinians in Gaza on the campus of UNR on Friday, April 26, 2024. (Ariel Van Cleve/The Nevada Globe)

Editorial: Hate Speech Takes A Back Seat To The First Amendment

An Israeli flag shouldn’t be shredded at UNR, but the misguided, politicized term ‘hate speech’ and infantile ‘safe spaces’ should be shredded in our national discourse and on college campuses

By Megan Barth, April 28, 2024 5:22 pm

“The big problem for proponents of hate-speech laws and codes is that they can never explain where to draw a stable and consistent line between hate speech and vigorous criticism, or who exactly can be trusted to draw it. The reason is that there is no such line.” Jonathan Rauch

Not too long ago, triggered college students were given teddy bears, coloring books, blankets and provided counseling services in university-sanctioned “safe spaces” that were designed to comfort the young adults and shield them from “hate speech.”

For what it is worth, the United Nations defines hate speech as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.”

Since its’ creation, I have always questioned and challenged this highly-politicized term by asking, “Who are the arbiters and censors of such speech?

Seemingly over night, the term “hate speech” warranted new administrative and political task forces created to police “offensive” speech. The Speech Police were trained and emboldened in the politicized halls of academia, the halls of Congress, and even in a proposed ordinance from the Clark County Commission in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 2017, the University of California at Berkeley had to spend about $600,000 on security so that a conservative Jewish pundit, Ben Shapiro, could speak on campus. Protecting free speech from violent mobs became an expensive endeavor at many universities that year. Shapiro’s crime wasn’t using the wrong pronouns (dozens of pronouns didn’t exist at that time). Shapiro’s crime was being an invited, conservative speaker on a progressive campus. Berkeley offered counseling services to students, faculty and staff whose “safety and belonging” may be threatened by Shapiro’s words and beliefs.

Just six years later, on October 7th, 2023–another day that will “live in infamy,” hate speech and infantile safe spaces have suddenly taken a backseat to the First Amendment–which, on certain campuses, conflicts with university policy.

“Fuck the Jews”, “Kill The Jews”, “Long Live the Infitada”, and “From the River to the Sea,” is now chanted across college campuses, including the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) and the University of Nevada Reno (UNR).

Protesters rally in support of Palestine outside the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, on April 26, 2024. (Ariel Van Cleve/The Nevada Globe)

Last month, UNLV campus police were summoned after Palestinian activists silenced a Jewish lecturer invited to speak on black holes and physics. Campus police cited the First Amendment as cause to not remove the activists, even though the protestors violated school policy. If campus police are confused over the conflict of school policy and First Amendment rights, there is an obvious conflict that requires more discussion, not less.

This month at UNLV, Palestinian protestors chose Passover as the day to call for the genocide of Jews. The incident has yet to be addressed by the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) who recently adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism for use in anti-bias and anti-discrimination education and training for all colleges and universities in Nevada. NSHE is the “first to adopt the measure rather than doing so through legislative decree or gubernatorial order.”

Prior to the “Free Palestine” protest at UNR on Friday afternoon, the university cited the First Amendment in a released statement:

The University of Nevada, Reno is committed to the goal of fostering acquisition of knowledge and the critical importance of the diversity of ideas. In the spirit of open discussion and freedom of expression, any individual or group may use campus grounds to exercise this constitutionally protected right. The University’s environment invites free speech and higher learning to enhance its mission of learning, discovery and engagement. Peaceful demonstration, provided groups using campus grounds follow all University policies, local ordinances, state and federal laws, is something that is part of the University’s academic environment which advances the free exchange of ideas.”

One UNR faculty member attending Friday’s protest and wishing to remain unnamed told The Globe, “We’re here to protest the, you know, Israel’s ongoing genocide of Palestine; and our message is pretty clear. End the siege. Free Palestine.”

When questioned about what she would say to counter-protesters who criticized the protests for antisemitism and  harmful to Jewish students, the faculty member replied, “I’d say they should really come check it out here because there has been absolutely zero messages of antisemitism. I mean, in fact, they’re saying things like, ‘Human rights for everyone.’ You know, we want the hostages free just as much as anyone. No one is free ‘til everyone is free.” 

According to one UNR protestor’s sign, Palestinians will only be free if Jews are ethnically cleansed “From the River to The Sea.” As a bullhorn activist was calling on UNR to divest from Israel, one protestor yelled, “Fuck the Jews. Fuck UNR.”

Protesters rally in support of Palestine outside the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, on April 26, 2024. (Photo: Megan Barth for The Nevada Globe)

A Jewish student from UNR, who also wished to remain unnamed, told The Globe, “We just came to kinda see what was going on and if things were getting out-of-hand, and they’re not; but we saw from the distance a girl with an Israeli flag; and we decided to walk over; and there’s a bunch of hostage postages—posters and it’s a really beautiful thing to see someone so brave to be out here alone with, you know, counter-protesting. And it’s beautiful to see, and I’m-I’m proud of our community and what we’re doing. The less you’re open to conversation, the worse things get; and I think really these people could benefit from just having a conversation with someone that opposes their views rather than shutting it down and refusing. If we stop talking, then the problem is just gonna get a lot worse.” (emphasis added)

Katriel Van Cleve holds her Israeli flag after it had been stolen and vandalized. (Ariel Van Cleve/The Nevada Globe)

The girl with the Israeli flag was subsequently targeted by a protestor who stole the flag from where it was hung, and ran off with it into the Joe Crowley Student Union building. Police responded and eventually found the suspect and flag. The suspect fled and escaped on foot; the flag was recovered and returned but had been shredded.

Prior to the scheduled “Free Palestine” protest at UNR, annual media training was held for faculty and staff. According to university sources, a majority of the faculty advocated for limiting speech that the progressive majority “didn’t agree with” or “found offensive.” Hate speech was raised multiple times, prompting some wise soul to remind his colleagues that more speech was necessary to combat offensive speech.

Bravo. Someone (in faculty) finally gets it.

Yet, what remains is the conundrum that the Speech Police have created by limiting certain speech and enacting university policies designed to protect people from words and ideas that are foreign to their progressive orthodoxy.

An Israeli flag shouldn’t be shredded at UNR, but the misguided, politicized term “hate speech” and infantile “safe spaces” should be shredded in our national discourse and on college campuses.

What must return to these “institutions of higher learning” is learning, which can be achieved through listening to an open dialogue in a robust, respectful debate, preceded or followed by a long-overdue disruption to the well-funded, racially-biased Diversity, Equity and Inclusion departments that inequitably exclude the diversity and inclusion of challenging opinions, thoughts, ideas, and policies.

Many rightfully argue that an increase in diversity of thought and the introduction and inclusion of diverse viewpoints will ultimately provide a safe space…for listening and learning.

In a 2014 Washington Post article by Jonathan Rauch, who happens to be gay and Jewish, makes a solid case for such disruption:

“Above all, the idea that hate speech always harms minorities is false. To the contrary: painful though hate speech may be for individual members of minorities or other targeted groups, its toleration is to their great collective benefit, because in a climate of free intellectual exchange hateful and bigoted ideas are refuted and discredited, not merely suppressed. The genius of the open society is that it harnesses the whole range of public criticism, including offensive and hurtful speech, in a decentralized knowledge-making process that has no rival at the job minorities most care about: finding truth and debunking bigotry.”

When I was young girl, my grandfather once told me, “God gave you two eyes, two ears and one mouth. Use them accordingly.” Wise words from a man of few words and a sobering reminder at a time when the First Amendment is suddenly embraced and upheld by the very same people who have sought to manipulate and redefine it through their political means to achieve their desired ends.

Thankfully, Chief Justice John Roberts described the national commitment to protecting speech: “Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Megan Barth
Spread the news:


2 thoughts on “Editorial: Hate Speech Takes A Back Seat To The First Amendment

  1. free palestine. half of this article consists of things you made up. you do not deserve to call yourself a journalist

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *