Abstract 7, Volume 11, Number 1, Spring 2016

You Cannot Say That in American Schools: Attacks on the First Amendment

James R. Moore

Cleveland State University

The first amendment, a crucial component of American constitutional law, is under attack from various groups advocating for censorship in universities and public schools.  The censors assert that restrictive speech codes preventing anyone from engaging in any expression deemed hateful, offensive, defamatory, insulting, or critical of sacred religious or political beliefs and values are necessary in a multicultural society.  These speech codes restrict critical comments about race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical characteristics, and other traits in the name of tolerance, sensitivity, and respect.  Many hate speech codes are a violation of the first amendment and have been struck down by federal and state courts.  They persist in jurisdictions where they have been ruled unconstitutional; most universities and public schools have speech codes.  This assault on the first amendment might be a concern to all citizens, especially university professors and social studies educators responsible for teaching students about the democratic ideals enshrined in our constitution.  Teachers should resist unconstitutional speech codes and teach their students that the purpose of the first amendment is to protect radical, offensive, critical, and controversial speech.

Key words: first amendment, hate speech codes, academic freedom, censorship, tolerance, social studies teachers

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