Personal Injury

Debating the “Mighty Constitutional Opposites”

Take Action!—Debating Hate Speech

The question of how to encourage proper civil speech without limiting a full exchange of ideas (especially those that are unpopular) will continue to be debated by your generation. Here are some ways you can prepare to join the debate.

  • Review the Supreme Court’s decisions in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul and Wisconsin v. Mitchell . These decisions were based on the idea that actions and behavior, not thoughts or the content of a message, should be punished. Do you agree with this idea? Why or why not? Might there be occasions when it is hard to distinguish between acts and thoughts? What do you think should be done then?  [You might also want to visit the Constitutional Rights Foundation feature on hate crimes.]
  • Read “Rising Tide: Sites Born of Hate” by Michel Marriott at In the article, Marriott states that “online hate propaganda can disguise itself more easily than bathroom graffiti and mimeographed pamphlets.” What does he mean by this? Can you make an argument for the positions that online hate is more dangerous than other forms of hate propaganda because it is easier to disguise? Consider the illustrations from the article, including: the site for the neo-Nazi World Church of the Creator designed in bright crayon colors, sites that offer popular computer games that are altered to include members of minority groups as targets, and sites with cartoons depicting violent acts against minorities.

    Are using crayon colors, computer games, and cartoons to communicate hate especially misleading to children and teens? Why? Are children and teens able to determine whether the message of site is hateful if the design is pleasing, and/or involves a game or cartoons? Compare the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry development stages for middle school/early high school years ( publications/factsfam/develop.htm) to those for late high school years and beyond ( What are the major differences between the two stages? What do the differences suggest about each group’s ability to decipher messages of hate from such sites?
  • While some believe that online hate is dangerous and must be removed, others, like Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama (, and Nadine Strossen, American Civil Liberties Union President (, argue that while the sites are offensive, they should remain on the Web. Visit the sites listed above to read about their positions. Why do these critics of online hate believe such sites should not be censored? Are there any benefits of allowing hate on the Web? If so, do these benefits outweigh the dangers?
  • Go to a few sites that offer to host or list personal Web pages (e.g., Yahoo! GeoCities, Lycos) and read their terms and conditions (normally found at the bottom of the page). What kinds of conduct/material do they prohibit? Why isn’t this considered unconstitutional censorship?

Student Central | Students in Action | Debating the "Mighty Constitutional Opposites"
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