What the First Amendment Protects – And What it Doesn’t

Emmy Schmelter, Staff Writer

Everyone knows the golden rule of what topic not to bring up during dinner with your grandmother: politics. But why has this topic been abolished from our classrooms as well? 

Discussing politics goes far beyond one’s voting party. Knowing our rights as citizens has become less and less common, opening the door for our country’s leaders to value certain groups over others without our knowledge. 

I am demanding that a reassessment of the First Amendment is essential to our democracy. And here’s why. 

There are two parts of our society, the core and the periphery. In the core lies those in the majority and therefore political discourse. Minorities exist on the outside, where their speech is filled with hate and discrimination. 

The First Amendment was created to protect minoritized speech at the periphery. However, as Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic discuss in their book “Must We Defend Nazis?: Why the First Amendment Should Not Protect Hate Speech and White Supremacy,” this is no longer the case. 

“We believe the principal reason is that hate speech and pornography today do not lie at the periphery of the First Amendment, as the ACLU and other advocates urge, but at its center,” they write. 

We must not be blinded by the fact that our country has passed non-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the repeal of Jim-Crow laws. We must ask ourselves: what is left unregulated? 

Hate speech. 

Dr. Billie Murray works in the Communication Department at Villanova and is the Associate Professor of Rhetoric. She is also a recent author of the book “Combating Hate: A Framework For Direct Action” Within her book she explains that “because legal and structural barriers to equality have been removed (to some extent), hate speech is what does the work of subordinating minoritized groups.”

As hate speech has now transitioned to become the core, it lies in a protection bubble. It works to block out minorities and further segregate our society. This divide encourages those in the periphery to see themselves as victims and less than others. Hate speech is actively working to put down those who are not already protected by laws of the government. 

As long as hate speech continues to infiltrate political discourse in the core, citizens in the periphery are unable to participate in our democracy. It is being used as a weapon to keep minorities “in their place” and unprotected in the periphery. 

If protecting hate speech in the core was necessary to our government, Delgado and Stefancic explain that “we could expect to find that nations that have adopted hate-speech rules and curbs against pornography would suffer a sharp erosion of the spirit of free inquiry. But that has not happened.” 

No other nation has had any issues regarding the regulation of hate speech. What will it take for our country to recognize that the lack of regulation regarding hate speech is the exact thing keeping us from achieving a true democracy? 

An ideal democracy requires participation from everyone. More importantly, democracy is a system for dealing with differences. However, if hate speech continues to oppress minorities our differences will never be accepted. While the United States likes to portray itself as a country of equal opportunities and a united nation, this argument proves that it is most definitely not. 

We will never achieve racial justice if the periphery population is not protected. Are we just existing as fools who don’t understand how the First Amendment works? 

When asked about the specifics of the First Amendment, junior Ava Salvatore responded, “It’s kind of something I learned about a while ago, like in high school, and haven’t discussed it since. We aren’t really taught much about how it really works in our society.”

The time for change is now. Here at Villanova, we must work together to encourage these conversations in our classrooms. We have to understand how different students around us are affected by hate speech. 

“Hate speech is just something no one really talks about,” said junior Evelyn Poncio, who is a first-generation Brazilian. “Like, we all know it’s happening on campus. And I don’t get treated as differently as African American students do. There’s so much injustice with no conversation.”


The core-periphery argument allows us to visualize this injustice. We must expose the reality of the First Amendment: it protects hate speech over citizens. 

Look around the room during your next class – is the First Amendment protecting everyone equally?