UNC Considers Hate Crime Policy
Special Report - December 23, 2008
Members of a University of North Carolina (UNC) study commission convened on December 17 for the first of several meetings in Chapel Hill to consider whether or not to adopt a system-wide policy on hate speech. UNC System president, Erskine Bowles, appointed the commission in November to study the issue, following an incident at North Carolina State, where four students painted graffiti on the school’s “Free Expression Tunnel” that featured violent racist comments about President-elect Barack Obama. The meeting was led by the commission’s chairman, Dr. Harold Martin, UNC’s senior vice president for academic affairs, who said the commission’s purpose is two-fold: to consider whether UNC should have a system-wide code or policy on hate crimes and, if so, to craft such a policy, and to consider whether UNC should implement a “diversity training” orientation for incoming students.
Most of the meeting focused on the First Amendment issues related to student speech. Commission members heard from two attorneys, Laura Luger, UNC legal affairs vice president, and Hugh Stevens, a Raleigh attorney who specializes in First Amendment issues. Both attorneys emphasized that unpopular speecheven some speech as troubling as the language used by the four students at NC Stateis protected under the First Amendment. Stevens said that time, place, and manner regulations or “restrictions must be reasonable and viewpoint-neutral.” UNC’s Laura Luger said that while student speech is protected as freedom of speech, there are some limitations, such as fighting words, unlawful threats, and harassment. The attorneys also pointed out that historically, the courts have rejected student codes of conduct that restrict or limit student speech, ruling them unconstitutional.
The study commission is scheduled to meet again on January 15 at a public forum, where various groups and individuals, including students, will be allowed to voice their opinions on the issue. According to Dr. Martin, the commission wants to hear from a wide range of groups. He specifically mentioned inviting the NAACP, Equality NC, a homosexual advocacy group, and the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy to attend. The UNC study commission is also soliciting email comments from the public, which can be sent to: email@example.com.
Jere Royall, counsel for the North Carolina Family Policy Council, who attended the December 17 meeting, commented, “We agree that all wrongful conduct should be discouraged and that such conduct should be properly disciplined when it occurs. However, if a conduct code or policy is adopted, it should not at the same time affirm or encourage harmful behavior by including language relating to sexual orientation or gender identity. Many people understand sexual activity outside of marriage to be harmful spiritually, physically, and psychologically. To seek to prohibit viewpoints reflecting this understanding would be a violation of the Constitutional freedoms of speech and religion.”
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.