Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

Don Knebel: “First Amendment, hate speech clashing more”

On June 19th CIC founding board chair Don Knebel gave a talk to the League of Women Voters of Indianapolis about the relation between free speech, hate speech, and the First Amendment. Don’s talk was part of a series of events organized by Spirit & Place, the IUPUI Office of Community Engagement, Indiana Humanities, IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law, the Center for Interfaith Cooperation, and the Center for Civic Literacy.

The Indianapolis Star covered Don’s talk.

Indianapolis Star, 20 June 2015

Stephanie Wang

Is flying the Confederate Flag a free speech right?

Should it be illegal to say, as it is in some parts of Europe, that you don’t think the Holocaust really happened?

Is it a violation of your First Amendment rights to be expelled from a public university for singing a racist song about not allowing black men to join your fraternity?

“The problem is,” said Indiana University Maurer School of Law adjunct professor Don Knebel, “what for one person may be hate speech is for another person a constitutional right.”How we talk about our freedoms “without freaking out” is the focus of an event series hosted by Spirit and Place, a collaborative community project out of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

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The topic was chosen because of the recent tensions in Indiana between religious beliefs and gay rights, which has fostered rigorous debates both inside and outside the Indiana Statehouse.

And the event comes at a time of rising concerns over racially motivated crimes and police treatment of blacks — all things that can give rise to highlycharged speech and conversations about how to deal with it.

“We shouldn’t go into our own little closets and say, this is the right answer,” said Knebel, a retired Barnes and Thornburg law firm partner who kicked off the series with a talk Friday on hate speech and the First Amendment. 

Talk about freedoms without freaking out

Can We Talk About RFRA Without Talking Past One Another?”: A panel discusses the constitutional and philosophical questions raised by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act debate. The free event runs from 6 to 7:30 p.m. June 24 at the IU McKinney School of Law’s Wynne Courtroom and Atrium, Inlow Hall, 530 W. New York Street.

Trivia Night at Sun King Brewery: Join Indiana Humanities and Spirit and Place for a night of First Amendment trivia and conversation, with prizes for the winners. Open to adults 21 and older, the free event runs from 5 to 7 p.m. July 13 at Sun King, 135 N College Ave.

And, indeed, he posed many questions but pointed to no “right answers” at the League of Women Voters of Indianapolis luncheon at the Scottish Rite Cathedral.

He outlined court cases that established precedents for unprotected hate speech — when speech is classified as “fighting words” that are uttered face-to-face in a way likely to cause violence, when it libels a group, or when it is used to intimidate.

But while judges must render decisions to define what is right, many eventgoers seemed conflicted or flummoxed by having to interpret the First Amendment for different issues in different eras.

What is morally right, and what is legally right?

It left 70-year-old Rebecca Vanvoorhis wondering about, “How do we promote better interpersonal relationships on highly controversial issues?”

“I don’t think there’s any one answer,” she added.

As people peppered Knebel with questions, seeking so many answers, he laughed.

“What I wanted to do here,” he said, “was not end this conversation.”

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