Words are the way we communicate our thoughts and pass judgement. The thoughts and attitudes of men can be filled with vitriol, hatred and evil. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can cause deep psychological damage. Words hurt. However, words can cause as much delight as pain, and that makes it a much different weapon than a gun or a blade.

Where the regulation of a weapon serves solely to prevent damage towards your fellow man, limitation of speech gives people the power to control expressions of opinions. Such a power can represent a violation of the most basic rights our forefathers fought and died for.

Recently, members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon demonstrated how corrupted their thoughts were by displaying an incredible amount of racial hatred in a video leaked online of the members joined together in an amazingly offensive chant. They faced swift punishment by means of the fraternity’s immediate disbandment and expulsion of two members.

The fraternity absolutely deserved the disbanding, as such hatred has no place in a civilized organization. However, I don’t believe the two students should have been expelled.

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As important as it is to preserve freedom of speech, it’s important to note that such a freedom doesn’t come without consequence. When your speech guarantees consequences from a public institution, I believe that starts to represent a dangerous infringement of our rights.

A landmark case in 1969, Brandenburg vs Ohio, is similar to the situation today. In that case, the organizer of a KKK rally, who wanted to spew the same hatred and ignorance that the SAE students spread, faced punishment from the Ohio government for his hate speech. Yet, the Supreme Court ruled that his hatred, as horrible as it was, was protected speech.

In the SAE case, the punishment came in the form of expulsion rather than criminal charge, and it was delivered by a public university rather than the government. Even if such a punishment is legal, I believe that morally, speech should still be protected. As a public university that takes your tax dollars to survive, they should have to be held to a higher standard of protected rights than a private institution.

Hate speech like this is a form of an unpopular opinion, and when you start giving public institutions the right to limit those opinions, you set a dangerous precedent.

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This type of punishment demonstrates the ability of a government to leverage its capacity to collect tax money to limit the rights of its citizens. Such hurtful words may damage the reputation and image of a public university. However, as soon as the school started to survive on the taxes of its people, its image became the face of its people. This issue is vital to the Stony Brook community.

The principles set forth in this instance gives our school the right to expel someone for saying, “Stony Brook sucks.” Admittedly such an occurrence would face significant and instant backlash, but the basic principles behind it are the same as the case in Oklahoma.

Both are examples of speech that damage a university’s reputation and are things that a private institution could be free to punish, but the government cannot.

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