Mesa Public Schools (MPS) updated their dress code policy to make it more equitable and prohibit “hate speech.” Nowhere in their current policies does MPS define “hate speech.”
As reported by The Arizona Sun Times last month, MPS General Counsel Kacey Gregson said that students would have a right to express their political beliefs unless it could be perceived as “hate speech,” promoting violence, or immediately or potentially causing substantial interference with the learning environment.
Gregson noted that there were accompanying proposed regulations not given to the public. Following our requests to see those regulations, MPS administrators posted them on their BoardDocs website. Those regulations didn’t define “hate speech” either. At the time of press, those regulations have been removed.
During Tuesday’s school board meeting, one parent expressed her concern about the prohibition of “hate speech.”
Rachel Walden said that while she agreed with the policy’s intent, she warned that a ban on “hate speech” would trap MPS in conflict over identity politics. Walden insisted the term be removed from the policy. She observed that the other provisions already restricted specific things like pornographic references – therefore, she said there would be no need to include “hate speech” as a prohibited item.
[T]he phrase ‘hate speech’ is a vague description, it has a very large scope into this environment of identity politics. There’s no legal definement [sic] or legal precedent that gives us the parameters of what hate speech is, therefore the complaints of hate speech are often based on opinion and individual interpretations. So, for example, somebody could wear a shirt that says ‘There’s Only Two Genders’ but somebody may disagree with that statement, somebody that has gender dysphoria may [dis]agree with that statement, even though it’s biologically accurate, and you can look online for examples of this – that would be considered hate speech. But is that actually hate speech? So, then, we can see that there’s a paradox using a vague term like hate speech when we don’t have precedent for the parameters of it and we have a world with so many different opinions about speech today. So it only takes one student, one person that may derail a school into this epicenter of identity politics over agenda-driven policies and speech issues. And it would definitely create a lasting impact on the student and the school, which is exactly what we want to avoid with the new dress code policy.
In response, Gregson conceded that no legal definition of hate speech exists.
“Arizona does not define hate speech, nor do any states to my knowledge, and there is no international definition of hate speech. So there’s no legal definition, there is only a dictionary definition. Which is what we would defer to – it would be a dictionary definition of hate speech,”
Gregson then proceeded to give a definition of hate speech, which she claimed was from a dictionary.
“‘Any form of expression through which speakers intend to vilify, humiliate, or incite hatred against a group or a class of persons on the basis of race, religion, skin color, sexual identity, gender identity, ethnicity, disability, or national origin,'” read Gregson.
However, this definition doesn’t come from a dictionary. It comes from a 1998 paper first published in the University of Miami Law Review, “Free Speech and the Development of Liberal Virtues: An Examination of the Controversies Involving Flag-Burning and Hate Speech.”
The author of the paper, Kenneth D. Ward, claimed that restrictions against hate speech would build character.
“Restrictions on hate speech do not impose significant costs, especially when one considers that a democratic response to such restrictions could strengthen citizens’ character,” wrote Ward.
MPS Governing Board President Jenny Richardson claimed change was necessary because the previous policy contained racist, sexist, and generally outdated components. Richardson asked if Gregson could include her given definition of hate speech in the finalized regulations.
Gregson promised to include a definition, but suggested further discussion as to which dictionary definition the governing board would prefer to include in the finalized regulations.
In the coming weeks, the governing board promised to finalize the regulations on the dress code policy.
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