The University of Missouri has once again landed in the national spotlight, this time thanks to a White student’s racist social media commentary. Meg Miller posted a hateful and disturbing message on Snapchat that quickly drew attention and backlash: “if they would have killed 4 more n*ggers we would have had the whole week off” with laughing crying emojis. The post, which was screenshotted and shared, drew widespread condemnation and outrage from social media users, the community at large, and fellow students.
Previous president of the right-wing nonprofit Turning Point USA at the University of Missouri, Miller has been vocal about her alignment with right-wing and conservative ideology. Posting publicly about it on her social media account, such as posing with Kyle Rittenhouse, a man who fatally shot and killed two innocent peaceful protesters during the 2020 #BlackLivesMatter protests, and is also known for aligning with right-wing ideology, appearing on Fox News several times.
In an effort to quell the outrage, University of Missouri President Mun Choi issued a statement:
“I would like to reiterate that I strongly condemn all forms of racism and discrimination, the safety of our community is of paramount importance.” (November 2022). However within one month, President Choi followed with a letter to the campus community which stated that whilst they “condemned the post” they were unable to punish Miller due to her racist remarks being “protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution” (Basi, 2023).
Black students and other students of colour took to social media to voice their outrage towards President Choi’s decision, arguing that Meg Miller was not exercising her free speech, but actually spewing hate speech.
What is the definition of hate speech?
According to the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action, hate speech is “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor”. (United Nations, 2019).
Debates surrounding whether hate speech is considered protected under The First Amendment have circulated amongst political debates for several decades within the United States. The First Amendment declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (Congress.Gov, no date). However, there are American citizens that have utilized The First Amendment to shield themselves from accountability., the incident that occurred at the University of Missouri is just one out of hundreds of cases across the U.S.
According to the National Centre for Human Rights Education (NCHRE), The First Amendment has been manipulated by “racists” to protect their White supremacist status quo of “white domination” and excludes “African Americans from equality […] legitimating social inequality and silencing victims” (NCHRE).
The First Amendment protects White supremacy
White supremacists and other people deemed to be racist within the United States have utilized The First Amendment as a shield, to protect themselves and dodge accountability. A survey conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found that whilst 57% of Americans recognise hate speech as being protected under the First Amendment, 45% of the 57% think that it “should not be protected” (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, 2022, cited in Hudson, 2022).
The particular case of the University of Missouri draws questions to what ‘free speech’ actually is under The First Amendment. Is hate speech to be included under this term? If not, why are we continuing to protect hate speech under The First Amendment despite it being discriminatory and provoking racial violence? A recent court ruling in December 2022 proves that no individual should be protected under The First Amendment after spreading hate speech.
In San Francisco, Albany High School students, Cedric Epple and Kevin Chen were rightfully expelled after posting racist Instagram posts targeting specific Black students while at school grounds (Nanos, 2022). Both students sued Albany High arguing that “the expulsion was a violation of their free speech rights under The First Amendment” and that they “should have the right to speak freely in an off-campus setting” (Nanos, 2022). However the court rebutted the students’ argument, with US District Court judge Ronald Gould justly stating that “no court would seriously entertain an argument that schools must teach hateful speech on the grounds of academic equality or fairness when it so clearly is antithetical” (Egelko, 2022). The University of Missouri had the opportunity to also expel Meg Miller on these grounds, however she has received more protection from the university than Black students have in this situation. Condemnation is not effective and The First Amendment does not justify the university’s decision to allow Miller to remain at the University of Missouri as a student.
Hate speech has led to people of colour and other minority groups, such as Women and the LGBTQ community, in the U.S. to receive physical violence and other targeted hate crimes by individuals and groups of people. Hate speech is the foundational base for inciting targeted hate crimes and for many White supremacists and other bigoted people in the US they are able to access this via social media. A recent example of this is the 2022 racially motivated Buffalo Supermarket mass shooting which tragically took the lives of 10 innocent Black people. Following the mass shooting it was discovered that the shooter named Payton Gendron, a white man who was 19 at the time, utilised social media platforms such as Twitch, Reddit, and Discord to spread anti-Black hate speech and White supremacist rhetoric. He also livestreamed the mass shooting (Chemerinsky and Chemerinsky, 2022). Hate speech is not only verbal abuse but can lead to physical abuse and puts targeted groups at immense danger. The University of Missouri’s decision to not expel Meg Miller under the pretence that she is utilising her “First Amendment” rights puts all Black students at the University of Missouri under immense danger of potential hate crimes that have stemmed from Miller’s post. Not only from Miller, but other students at the University of Missouri that hold similar morals to Meg Miller. The University of Missouri needs to take further action utilising their ‘Hate Speech Code of Conduct’. Hate speech is not synonymous to free speech.
Justifying hate speech by stating that it is protected under The First Amendment is a baseless argument that has been used countless times to avoid accountability and continue vocalising racial bigotry. The University of Missouri’s decision is unjustified and continues to uphold the assumption that by manipulating The First Amendment in your favour, you can spread hate speech whilst avoiding accountability.
@allhonknoshoo (2022) 8 December, Available at: https://twitter.com/allhonknoshoo/status/1600866337860907008?s=20 (Accessed: 31/03/2023)
Basi, C. (2023), ‘University of Missouri provides update on review of racist social media message’, Available at: https://showme.missouri.edu/2023/university-of-missouri-provides-update-on-review-of-racist-social-media-message/, Date accessed: 14/02/2023
Chemerinsky, E., Chemerinsky, A. (2022), ‘Mass Shooting and Hate Speech- What Can the Government Do?’, Available at: https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/mass-shootings-and-hate-speech-what-can-the-government-do, Date accessed: 14/02/2023
Congress.Gov (no date), ‘Constitution of the United States’, Available at: https://constitution.congress.gov/constitution/amendment-1/, Date accessed: 03/03/2023
Egelko, B. (2022) Court upholds Bay Area high school’s expulsion of student over racist messages and images, Available at: https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Court-upholds-Bay-Area-high-school-s-expulsion-17680136.php#:~:text=An%20Albany%20High%20School%20student,federal%20appeals%20court%20ruled%20Tuesday (Accessed: 23/03/2023)
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Hudson, D. (2022), ‘Is hate speech protected by the First Amendement?’, Available at: https://www.thefire.org/news/hate-speech-protected-first-amendment, Date accessed: 14/02/2023
Nanos, E. (2022) Students Expelled for ‘Ku Klux Klan Starter Pack’ Instagram Posts ‘Obviously’ Have No First Amendment Protection, Appeals Court Rules, Available at: https://lawandcrime.com/first-amendment/students-expelled-for-ku-klux-klan-starter-pack-instagram-posts-obviously-have-no-first-amendment-protection-appeals-court-rules/ (Accessed: 21/03/2023)
National Center for Human Rights Education (no date), ‘First Amendment and Racial Terrorism’, Available at: https://academic.udayton.edu/race/06hrights/waronterrorism/racial02.htm, Date accessed: 14/02/2023
The Kansas City Defender (2022) White Supremacist Mizzou Student: “If They Would Have Killed 4 More Nigg*rs We Would Have Had the Whole Week Off”, Available at: https://kansascitydefender.com/justice/white-mizzou-student-racism-kill-n-word/ (Accessed: 30/03/2023)
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University of Missouri (2022), MU condemns racist social media message, places matter under review, Available at: https://showme.missouri.edu/2022/mu-condemns-racist-social-media-post-places-matter-under-review/ (Accessed: 31/03/2023)
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