#useyourvoice series concludes with final 2 installments

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky speaks to students and faculty about First Amendment rights on college campus (Alyssa Hayes/Lariat)

The Associated Student Government along with the Pre-Law Society wrapped up their #useyourvoice series with the third and the fourth installments in the series.

The third series focused on an overview of First Amendment rights and what is and is not protected while on campus.  The panel featured Warren S. Kinsler and Sharon Ormond of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud, and Romo Professional Law Corporation.

The panel explained that not all speech is protected.  Speech that can incite violence, be immediately disruptive, or may be deemed a true threat are not protected under the First Amendment.

The panel gave tips on how to respond to offensive speech.

“If there is speech you don’t agree with, what is the cure? More speech,” Kinsler said.

Because the right to provoke and shock is the cornerstone of the First Amendment, many may wonder where the line between free speech and harassment lies.

“One person’s right to free speech is another’s form of harassment,” Ormond said.

Students want to know if the First Amendment is outdated, questioning if today’s speech could have even been considered in the 1700s.

The challenge of this question is that some Supreme Court Justices are textualists, meaning they read the U.S. Constitution and leave no room for interpretation, and some justices believe that the Constitution should be organically changing.

“Courts are constantly grappling with taking the First Amendment into the 21st Century,” Ormond said.

Student’s also asked the difference between fighting words and intense language, Ormond responded by quoting Justice Potter Stuarts famous ruling on obscenity, “I’ll know it when I see it.”

It is apparent that most issues of free speech cannot be determined with a simple yes or no answer. 

The topic of free speech again went to the regulations regarding postings around campus.  And while no one mentioned the previous guest speaker’s rant on the removal of the 9/11 posters, it seemed that this was the motive behind the laying out of the posting regulations. 

The fourth and final installment in the #useyourvoice series featured University of California Irvine Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. He may have been a bit tardy, but he arrived to the best turnout of the four-part series to summarize the law of the First Amendment.  Prior to Chemerinsky’s arrival, those in attendance were treated to a mini concert by a student duet, as well as the introduction of the Student Bill of Rights. 

Saddleback College President Dr. Tod Burnett explained to students and faculty in attendance that the problems involving free speech aren’t campus problems, but problems caused by outside impact.

“The intolerance level of free speech is increasing,” Burnett said.

Burnett spoke about recordings in classrooms, a topic that created controversy during the second installment of the series.  He equated recording in classroom to copyright laws in movie theaters, explaining that the teacher’s lessons are intellectual copyright. 

Chemerinsky began by explaining the difference between your First Amendment rights in private schools and in state schools.  Private schools are not governed by the same guidelines as state schools, and within private schools, the First Amendment does not apply.  However, both private and state schools operate under the general principle of academic freedom. 

“Academic freedom is essential to the inquiry that is necessary to the advancement of knowledge,” Chemerinsky said.

Chemerinsky went on to explain that the government cannot punish views based on the ideas that are expressed, and cannot say which ideas are acceptable or unacceptable.

“let all ideas be expressed, then they can be refuted,” he said.

Although, as covered in the previous installment of the series, not all speech is protected.  Hate speech, however, is protected.  The Supreme Court case of the National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie from 1977 ruled that the Nazi march was allowed, because although the content may be hateful, it is First Amendment right to express that hate.

“The Supreme Court has made it clear that there is a first amendment right to express hate,” Chemerinsky said.

In regards to regulation suggestions that deal with ideas of “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings” and “micro aggression,” Chemerinsky explained that there are campus regulations in place that deal with time, place and manner restrictions.  These restrictions must be content neutral.  Chemerinsky explained that trigger warnings, which are forced disclosure by the professor before disclosing possibly volatile content, could impede academic freedom and crosses the line into compelled speech, which is a violation of the First Amendment.

And while the #useyourvoice series is concluded, Lucy Hendrix, president of the Associated Student Government urged students and faculty to continue to communicate and voice their concerns regarding First Amendment rights.

“Even with the series ending, we hope the conversation continues,” Hendrix said.

The summary of the First Amendment laws by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky finished up the fourth installment in the #useyourvoice series.