Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Podcast: The First Amendment and racist speech on college campuses

March 19, 2015 by NCC Staff


On March 10, the University of Oklahoma expelled two students after a viral video showed them leading members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity in a song whose lyrics included racial slurs boasting that the frat would never accept an African-American member.


Greenfield and Volokh

In a letter to the two students, University President David Boren explained that they were expelled “because of your leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.”


Boren also severed ties between the University and its SAE chapter, forcing the frat to close and its members to find new housing. For its part, the national SAE leadership apologized and closed the Oklahoma chapter; the local chapter, however, is considering legal action.


Eugene Volokh is Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, where he teaches free speech law and a First Amendment amicus brief clinic. He is also the founder and coauthor of the Volokh Conspiracy, a leading law blog.


Volokh’s articles on his blog argue that the university’s actions to expel the students was unconstitutional.


Kent Greenfield is Professor of Law and Law Fund Research Scholar at Boston College Law School, where he teaches constitutional law.


Greenfield’s article in The Atlantic makes the argument that if the students sued and their case made it to the Supreme Court, the justices would likely rule for them – but they really shouldn’t.


The National Constitution Center’s Jeffrey Rosen moderates this detailed discussion in the podcast player below, or at the following link: Download this episode (right click and save)


NOTE: In the context of this debate, some offensive language is used as examples from free speech test cases.


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