Professors explain free speech at Zoom event

Wayne State law professor Robert Sedler and associate political science professor Julie A. Keil talk about free speech. Vanguard Photo | Brooke Elward

Robert Sedler, an accredited expert on the First Amendment rights, held a Zoom discussion on Oct. 13.

Julie Keil, an associate professor of political science, moderated the discussion, which included a Q&A with SVSU students and Sedler.

Sedler gave tips on how to protect First Amendment rights, what to do when some- one may be overstepping the line of First Amendment, how to deal with hate speech and more.

One of the first questions he took was asked by an anonymous student. The student wondered what they could do when they believe someone is stepping over the line in using their First Amendment rights and using hate speech.

“The best remedy for bad speech is more speech to drown them out,” Sedler said. “… Counter speak is also protected by the First Amendment. So, if you disagree with hatespeech, you can protest, peacefully picket and have signs. When someone says it in your presence, that becomes a personal decision.”

Sedler discussed how hard it is to be a faculty/staff member and ensure First Amendment rights are being protected while students are protected from hate speech.

“It gets hard,” he said. “As faculty, we don’t want to lecture to our students. We don’t want to say ‘here is the truth, according to me,’ we want them to think for themselves and express their own ideas. Of course, these are my ideas. There is a controversial view.”

Sedler said he encourages students to debate.

“I want to endorse my students to express their ideas and disagree,” he said. “Faculty members should encourage students to have their own ideas and to feel free to disagree with even faculty members who are expressing ideas. We want a debate. I think the idea that there are ideas you can’t debate is inaccurate.”

An anonymous person from SVSU asked about free speech, hate speech and when it crosses the line of tolerance and intimidating voters and promoting violence.

“Hate speech is the expression of ideas that degrade people because of race, gender, sexual identity, religion, etc.,” Sedler said. “These are ideas. Under the principle of content neutrality, all ideas are protected under the First Amendment.”

He used the Michigan governor kidnapping conspiracy as an example.

“When illegal conduct takes the form of words, it is still illegal,” he said. “For example, conspiracy. (The kidnapping) was a true threat.”

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