Press Release

ADL to Senate Committee: Hate Speech is Protected, But Harm Must Be Addressed

Urges Congress Not to Restrict Campus Leader Discretion

New York, NY, October 26, 2017 … As the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held hearings on “Exploring Free Speech on College Campuses,” the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) urged Senators to recognize that, while the First Amendment protects hateful, offensive, and ugly speech, campus leaders have a responsibility to use their bully pulpit to address the impact and harm of this speech.

ADL urged Congress not to restrict the discretion of campus administrators – and called on campus leaders to use their bully pulpit to speak out against hate and in support of the university’s values of inclusion and equity. 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.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO, issued the following statement:

Hate speech is constitutionally protected, but campus administrators also have First Amendment rights – and they should use their bully pulpit to speak out strongly against such harmful speech. Universities have an obligation to maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all of their students. The most effective responses to hateful speech are those that are timely, specific and direct. Naming the hate sends a strong, supportive message to the community that has been targeted and helps restore a safe and inclusive campus climate.

In recent months, we have seen campuses bear enormous security costs associated with the visit of a controversial speaker to campus. We are concerned that some universities, especially smaller institutions, may be forced to choose between violating the First Amendment by shutting down the speaker or risking serious harm to property or life.

We strongly believe 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.

ADL’s statement also documented how white supremacists are engaging in unprecedented outreach efforts on American college campuses – another sign that hate groups feel emboldened by the current political climate. The ADL Center on Extremism has counted 79 incidents of racist fliers, banners, or stickers being posted on college campuses since Sept. 1. This compares to only nine incidents in September and October of 2016. A total of 260 incidents have been recorded on 173 campuses in 40 states since September 2016.

ADL’s statement included a series of policy recommendations to directly address hate speech on campus:

  • 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 from all perspectives;
  • Provide federal funding to universities specifically earmarked for protecting free speech.

ADL works with colleges and universities across the country, on both proactive education about hate, bigotry and bias, and in response to specific hate incidents on campus when they occur. ADL professionals have expertise in combatting hate, building inclusive communities, and safeguarding civil rights.