– November 30th, 2012 by Lisa Ray –
first amendment copy

Freedom of Speech or Sign of Hate

The First Amendment in the United States protects Freedom of Speech, yet is there a limitation that can be placed on freedom of speech? It appears to be that way at Colby-Sawyer. On November 4 a swastika sign was discovered on a wall in Burpee Hall. This incident was not viewed as freedom of speech, instead it was considered to be an act of hate by the students, faculty and staff here on campus.

Senior Katie Buck stated, “I was disappointed when I learned about the swastika sign being drawn. No one in the Colby-Sawyer community ever struck me as someone who could do something so hateful to others.”

It is clearly stated in the First Amendment that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Although limitations to freedom of speech are not stated in the United States Constitution, society has applied its own limitations over time.

Associate Professor Donna Berghorn stated, “The key phrase in the first amendment is “Congress shall make no law…” Private organizations, such as a college, have the right to develop and enforce codes of conduct that ensure the civil rights of individuals to live without prejudice based on race, gender, religion, etc. When students come to this college, they agree to abide by our community’s codes; thus, when they engage in certain behaviors, they violate their own agreements.”

Berghorn continued adding, “The first amendment does protect some forms of hate speech. However, federal law also protects the Civil Rights of individuals. The legal difficulties arise when hate speech creates a climate that prevents individuals from exercising their civil rights.”

Assistant Professor Malachy Flynn explains in his American history classes that freedom of speech becomes restricted when the person is stating something that could put others in danger, such as yelling “Fire” in a crowded movie theater causing chaos, even though there is not a real fire. But these restrictions do not have a certain boundary line drawn. Therefore it becomes difficult to define whether what is being stated is actually freedom of speech, or if it is taking freedom of speech too far and becoming an act of hate.

The community of Colby-Sawyer looked upon the swastika sign as an act of hate instead of freedom of speech because of the negative association that comes from the symbol’s connection to the Nazis and the holocaust.

Junior Jackie Sussmann stated, “I think the swastika sign was an act of hate, and that there is no excuse for that kind of behavior. If you hate a huge group of people, then that is your right. You do not have the right to threaten those people and make them feel unwelcome in their home.”

Senior Ashley Cail added, “It wasn’t freedom of speech, it was a hate crime. There’s a very big difference. Hate crimes are illegal and whoever drew the sign deserves to be punished.”

Although the community of Colby-Sawyer viewed the swastika sign as a negative image and as an act of hate, in many different cultures the swastika symbol is actually an optimistic symbol for life. An e-mail sent to the school from President Tom Galligan informed students that in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Odinism the multi-armed cross is still a sacred symbol.

Whether or not the swastika sign was drawn as a symbol of hate or as a positive symbol of life, many members of the Colby-Sawyer community stood up and agreed that acts of hate are not tolerable here at Colby-Sawyer. Instead the school aims to embrace different cultures.


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