Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law at UCLA School of Law, says members of the SAE fraternity that took part in the chant heard round the world are protected by the First Amendment, and, as a result, shouldn’t have been expelled from the University of Oklahoma, at least not for the reason they were expelled. Volokh thinks expelling students on the basis of a racist chant sets a poor precedent, setting the university on a slippery slope, and explains why in two columns written for the Washington Post.
Consider the president’s statement to the students: “You will be expelled because of your leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.” Similar things could be said about a vast range of other speech.
He goes on to give several examples.
Black students talking to each other about how all whites are racist, and white cops — and maybe other whites — should get shot? Again, that could be labeled racist and exclusionary speech that, when publicized, can create a hostile educational environment for whites.
And he goes on…
Likewise, students talking about how they think homosexuality is evil, and that homosexuals shouldn’t get equal treatment? Could be called bigotry based on sexual orientation and exclusionary statements that, when publicized, can create a hostile educational environment for gays. Students talking about how women are inferior to men, or men are inferior to women — same thing.
Volokh definitely brings up an interesting point, and although he does feel the speech was “repugnant,” as do all rational people, that doesn’t mean it isn’t protected by the constitution.
If the University of Oklahoma president’s position is accepted as legally sound, then there’d be no legal basis for protecting the other kinds of speech while expelling students for this sort of speech.
While everyone that took part in the extremely racist and hateful chant is certainly deserving of removal from the university, it seems the grounds on which they were removed could become a national talking point. .
Image via OU.edu