Many universities, under pressure to respond to the concerns of those who are the objects of hate, have adopted codes or policies prohibiting speech that offends any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. The power of a university to eliminate bias on campus depends not on its ability to punish a racist speaker, but instead on its commitment to equality and education. .
Hate speech is comprised of verbal, pictorial or symbolic expressions of hatred against racial, religious, or ethnic groups, homosexuals, and women. Boundaries of the First Amendment are at the center of the legal debates about free speech and hate speech. While free speech is considered to be a fundamental right, the Supreme Court has never held that the Constitution establishes an "absolute" right to free speech. Individuals have the right to speak, and in some cases demonstrate their opinions even if those opinions are unpopular and hate motivated. However, when such "free speech" crosses the line and becomes a threat or an incitement to violence, the courts have stepped in and punished the speaker.
Several writers justify regulation of hate speech on the grounds that it lacks social value, causes harm, and falls outside the scope of the First Amendment. Mari Matsuda, author of "Assaultive Speech and Academic Freedom" (1996), along with Charles Lawrence, author of "Regulating Racist Speech on Campus" (1990), both support speech restrictions on campus. Matsuda writes "There is a cost, a burden, a price paid for the epidemic of assaultive speech on our campuses, and the cost is paid disproportionately by historically subordinated groups" (p.152). Hate speech cuts into the equality of access for minority groups. While students are taking part in essential activities at universities, they are being verbally attacked, they feel threatened, and sometimes fear for their own health.