First Amendment should not protect dangerous speech


By Allison Jacobs, Assistant News Editior

A prom photo showcasing a group of 60 senior boys from Baraboo High School in Wisconsin went viral Nov. 12. The photo’s popularity grew out of controversy rather than humor as most viral photos do these days.

The boys were pictured holding a “Sieg Heil” salute, most commonly recognized as the Nazi salute. However, the controversial aspect of the photo revolves around whether the boys should be punished. On Nov. 24, many newspapers and websites released the fact that there would be no punishment because the school claims that the boys are protected by the First Amendment. However, this is irresponsible by the school district because the boys violated their protection under the First Amendment by supporting a threat to people’s safety.

According to Warriors for Justice, a law firm website, it is a common belief and misconception that all speech is protected by the First Amendment.

It is clear that the boys are technically not protected by the First Amendment due to the suggestions made by their support of the salute. Certain forms of expression, specifically hate speech and violence, are not protected under the First Amendment as they are harmful to citizens, groups or an environment.

In an Observer poll of 71 WCHS students, 48 percent said that the boys were protected by the First Amendment, while 52 percent said they weren’t.

While the argument that the students’ actions violate their First Amendment rights is based off of perception and is hypothetical, these points ruin the validity of the school’s argument. There is no suggestion that the boys should be sent to prison or that they must deal with extremely serious consequences because they are teenagers who just made a mistake, but there needs to be some consequence, whether it be expulsion, detention or something similar.

In this situation, the danger of the salute is presented in four different ways. The photo can be seen as creating clear and present danger, fighting words, sedition and slander.

The salute the boys are displaying suggests their support of genocide for ethnic homogeneity and the mass murder of at least 11 million people of different races, genders and religions. While this isn’t directly causing physical harm to people, the salute makes it seem as if what happened was okay and by these young boys using the salute, it shows that they could even support it or something like it happening again, which creates danger to millions of people.

According to the Anti-Defamation League website, the “Seig Heil” salute is “the most common white supremacist hand sign in the world” since World War II.

Since the subject is so sensitive and there are two very distinct sides to the argument, it is very easy for people to argue over who is right and wrong. This image easily provokes fights and thus violates the right to be protected because it can be considered “fighting words.”

According to the Warriors for Justice law firm website, the Supreme Court has determined that fighting words “inflict injury just by their very utterance.” When someone uses fighting words, they can be punished under law, and this punishment would not violate the First Amendment.

The salute was used very often as support of Hitler. While Hitler was elected democratically, he quickly took over ruling the country and turned it into a dictatorship. By using the salute, it can be perceived that these boys are supporting overthrowing the American government today, which would thus be sedition and a violation of protection under the First Amendment.

Lastly, and most clearly, the “Sieg Heil” salute is a well-known hate symbol. By using this salute very openly, the boys are exposing millions of people to hate and referencing a time when a certain group of people were treated horribly. The degree of slander is very large and creates a violation of the boys protection.

Overall, the protection and rights of the First Amendment is open to interpretation. So many people can perceive it in so many different ways, but the argument that they boys cannot get punished because of the First Amendment is not valid and irresponsible of the school district. By allowing these kids to get away with casually using a symbol for mass killings, it suggests to the whole country, that little things like this can be done and gotten away with.

There is no suggestion that these kids need to be investigated by the government or thrown into prison, but some action must be taken. Whether it be expulsion for the students or even in-school suspension, something must be done. There can no longer be tolerance for hate, it has to end now.