ADL to Congress: Campus Hate Speech Must Be Addressed

Don't Tie the Hands of Administrators

New York, NY, July 27, 2017 … In testimony for House Oversight Subcommittee hearings on “Challenges to Freedom of Speech on College Campuses,” the Anti-Defamation League highlighted the breadth of protection afforded to harmful hate speech – and underlined the “moral obligation” by campus administrators and the community “to respond clearly and forcefully.”

The League’s statement also highlighted increasing efforts by extremist groups to recruit on college campuses and criticized counterproductive efforts to legislate in this arena.

“Hate speech on campus is generally protected, but that is not the end of the matter,” said Frederick M. Lawrence, an ADL National Commissioner and Secretary and CEO of The Phi Beta Kappa Society. “Administrators and the campus community must recognize and prepare to address the harm that can stem from protected speech on campus. There is a moral obligation to respond clearly and forcefully to constitutionally protected hate speech.”

In addition, ADL warned that proposed state or federal legislation in this arena could backfire, restricting the options of campus administrators who are best equipped to respond when racist or anti-Semitic speakers appear on campus or others are prevented from speaking altogether. “Tying the hands of university administrators and precluding universities from advocating on behalf of issues that reflect their institutional values violates fundamental academic norms and inhibits their ability to create an inclusive campus climate where all community members feel safe and welcome.”

ADL's statement also documented that white supremacists are engaging in outreach efforts on American college campuses – another sign that hate groups feel emboldened by the current political climate. According to data from ADL’s Center on Extremism. During the 2016-17 academic year, students, faculty and staff on 110 American college campuses in 33 states were confronted by 159 separate incidents of racist fliers and stickers, as well as numerous on-campus appearances by white supremacists and several instances of anti-Semitic and racist faxes and e-mails.

ADL believes that colleges and universities must have the ability to react appropriately and are often best equipped to deal with manifestations of hate speech on campus. To that end, ADL shared a series of policy recommendations to directly address hate speech on campus

Those recommendations include:

  • Reject legislative attempts to strip university leaders of their discretion or to link federal funding to speech.
  • Educate faculty and students on the parameters of their First Amendment speech rights.
  • Improve training for campus officials and policy on responding to bias incidents and hate crime.
  • Create and convene a national task force on inclusive excellence, with the goal of improving campus climate for those speaking and for those listening and safeguarding free expression form all perspectives.