The president of Nicholls State University recently said that hate speech is not free speech. Then the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education got involved.

From the FIRE blog:

Nicholls State president walks back claim that ‘free speech does not protect hate speech’ following FIRE letter

FIRE readers will remember that last week FIRE sent a letter reminding Nicholls State University President Jay Clune of exactly what freedom of speech protects after he sent an email to students alleging that “free speech does not protect hate speech.” In his email, Clune promised the “swiftest, harshest action allowed by law if any member of our campus community is found acting or communicating in a manner that does not support our values.” As FIRE explained in our letter, the “harshest action allowed by law” doesn’t include punishing students for hateful speech alone.

Now, Clune has walked back his original statement. In an interview with local newspaper The Houma Courier, Clune responded to the fact that free speech does, in fact, protect most “hate speech,” as long as it doesn’t fall into another, narrowly-defined, unprotected category, like true threats or incitement:

“I don’t think our students who were protesting inequality, discrimination and injustice really wanted a teaching moment on the First Amendment,” Clune said. “We understood that we were making a moral statement, a moral framework, rather than a legal framework.”

Clune’s response is baffling. After all, it was his own email to students on June 6 that promised the swiftest and harshest action allowed “by law” for offensive speech. If students weren’t looking for a teaching moment on the First Amendment, perhaps Clune — the leader of a government institution — shouldn’t have given them an incorrect one to begin with.

As FIRE explained in our letter, the law is clear that public universities cannot punish students simply for speech others may find hateful. Public universities have an obligation to uphold freedom of speech — regardless of what their other policies might say — and if they do not, they open themselves up to costly lawsuits.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.