2018 Law Day Speech Contest

Heather Ligtenberg

This year’s topic is to address the legal, societal, and moral balance between First Amendment rights to freedom of speech with so-called “hate speech.”

The First Amendment provides:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, orprohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,
or of the press or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and topetition the government for a redress of grievances.

Hate speech has been defined as speech that attacks a person or group on a basis of race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability or gender.  In some countries a victim of hate speech may seek redress under civil law or criminal law.

The United States has a history of allowing “hate speech” in the interests of the importance of free speech in democratic society.

For example, last summer the United States confirmed First Amendment protection (in the case of Matal v. Tam) for such speech in a case that allowed an Asian-American band to trademark their name “The Slants.”

In that case, Justice Samuel Alito, wrote in an opinion joined by other justices:

[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas thatoffend…strikes at the heart of the First Amendment.  Speech that demeans
on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any othersimilar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”

Professional sports teams with names like the “Redskins” (football) and “Indians” (baseball)continue to be accepted under this ruling, but public pressure to change team names and/or logos remain.

In the last year in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the United States several incidents have shown that the right to engage in hateful speech is not without societal consequences and controversy.

Protesters and supporters clashed at a speech from alt-right Breitbart News (then) editor, Milo Yiannopolis, at the University of Washington in January 2017.  A man present at the event was shot and killed.  In February 2018 there were five arrests and police had to use pepper spray when college Republicans at the University of Washington hosted a rally with the right leaning group “Patriot Prayer.”  Days before the rally, a federal judge blocked the University of Washington from billing the College Republicans an estimated $17,000 security fee for the rally on the grounds that the fee would violate free speech rights.

Right here in Olympia at The Evergreen State College protests and threats of violence broke out after Professor Bret Weinstein criticized the college’s “Day of Absence” when white students who chose to participate were asked to leave campus and talk about race issues.  In previous years, students of color would leave campus and address diversity issues.  Professor Weinstein appeared on Fox News and wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal.  Protests from one side arguing racism, and the other side, intolerance of divergent opinions, resulted in threats of violence and Evergreen’s graduation being forced off campus for security reasons.  The professor and his wife were ultimately paid a settlement and resigned from the college.

Some potential areas of exploration: Have the rights to free speech been extended too far or is this simply a cost of doing business in a democracy with a free and robust exchange of ideas?  Could some measured restriction on speech lead to more civility and less violence in our country which commentators note is increasingly divided?  What would that look like and is that even possible legislatively in light of the First Amendment?  Can other countries’ handling of similar issues be instructive to the United States?

The speech should be approximately five to seven minutes long.  There will be a preliminary round on April 12, 2018 at 5:30 p.m. that will take place in Superior Court at the main Thurston County Courthouse. The top three speeches will advance to a final round on May 1, 2018, at a West Olympia Rotary lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Viewpoint Room at the West Bay Marina.  Prize money will be awarded to the top three speeches.  The total prize money to be split among the top three speeches is $1,800.

This speech contest is open to all high school students attending high school in Thurston County.  DEADLINE: You must notify the Thurston County Bar Association (TCBA) of your intent to participate in the speech contest no later than 5:00 p.m. on April 6, 2018.  Please e-mail your intent to participate with your name, grade, school, and contact information to tcba.info@nullgmail.com.  If you have specific questions, please contact Heather at the TCBA at tcba.info@nullgmail.com.

  • April 19, 2018
    1:00 am - 10:00 am
Heather Ligtenberg2018 Law Day Speech Contest