If you’ve read a headline, passed a newspaper rack, followed any online news source, or basically stepped outside your home in the last year, you’ve inevitably heard the term “post-racial America.” And odds are you’ve heard it in connection with this week’s viral video wherein two members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chanted a racist sing-song while on a party bus.
This crosses over from the typical spotlight on wrongful death at the hands of police into the realm of white fraternity kids on a party bus. The SAE viral video sent ripple effects through the University of Oklahoma’s administration and student body, culminating in OU’s president David Boren cutting all ties with the fraternity and expelling the two young men involved in the incident.
A song slinging epithets and condoning a lynch mob is deplorable—that’s an understatement because there really aren’t words strong enough to attack their verbiage cloaked in a nursery tune. But…is their display nevertheless protected by the first amendment right to freedom of speech? Arguably, a viable lawsuit looms regarding whether one can be punished for protected speech, no matter how offensive. In 2011, the Supreme Court grudgingly protected members of the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to picket with some of the most hateful slogans one can conceive. In it’s rationale, the Court explained that the slogans were hyperbole and figurative expression, not the assertion of fact.
In much the same vein, the young men can say whatever they want and bring down a firestorm of public criticism. They face the repercussions of their choice for years to come, a weighty burden on a 19-year old kid’s shoulders. However, there is a differentiation between speech and behavior, bringing into question the constitutionality of punishment, specifically expulsion, in this scenario.
Finding any redemption for this incident presents a Sisyphean task. The young men will spend their lives trying to atone. However, in light of the claim that the SAE song was taught by other fraternity members, a common thread seems to be emerging. Of course the requisite condemnation flooded social media, but so did a poignant thought: racism is taught. We’re all perfectly aware of the problem. If that simple statement sparks awareness, it could be the key to attacking the problem at its roots and truly becoming a post-racial America.
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Jeff Krigel is an attorney in Tulsa who focuses his practice on criminal defense, personal injury, and family law. The Jeff Krigel Law firm is a full-service Oklahoma law firm dedicated to achieving your legal goals in a competent, trusting, and result oriented manner. The firm is based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and handles criminal defense, as well as other legal matters in all Oklahoma Counties. If you have any legal issue, it is important to seek the help of a qualified attorney. We offer free consultations and have payment plans available. There is no reason not speak with someone regarding your case. If you have questions regarding your specific legal claim, call for a free consultation. 918-994-2340