He was arrested because the town had a law where one could not stand in a public street and scream at others in insulting manner.
While it is tempting to understand why Walter Chaplinsky was arrested and most people can understand the annoyance his speech must have caused, it was a law that should have been repealed.
Freedom of speech is such a fundamental right ingrained for more than 250 years that it needs to be protected even when the majority of listeners do not like or agree with what is being said.
Another case, in 1952 brings to light a different issue with regards to freedom of speech. In that case the leader of a white supremacy group was arrested for distributing literature claiming that the Negro race lacked virtue and other important characteristics.
While freedom of speech should be protected, it is also important not to allow hate filled speeches to be distributed in writing that are filled with non-provable information that could ultimately harm a group of people because it may be taken as fact.
The Ultimate Decision
Case law on students' freedom of speech reveals a limited but constitutional precedent for hate speech regulations within the academic environment. Regulations restricting other forms of student speech have been upheld under the special characteristics argument, which emphasizes universities' liabilities as learning institutions. Under this argument, students are considered captive audiences, thus universities can legally act to avoid disruptions to the educational environment, which hate speech can do (Russell, 1997)."
As much as most individuals will agree that certain speech is hurtful to others society by and large has the ability to correct itself by ignoring or shunning those who insist on voicing opinions that are unpopular or hateful and college students are capable of the same shunning which in turn brings pressure to the speech giver to cease and desist.
We cannot pick and choose which part of the constitution we are going to protect as the entire document embodies what the founding fathers intended when they put it together.
The exception to free speech should always of course address threats to do someone bodily harm however, this leaves the arena of free speech and enters a criminal intent and the desire to take away one's constitutionally protected right to live without fear.
College students are a specific population and the fact that they were able to get through school and get into college speaks to their ability to make their own decisions when it comes to what to believe. Regulating or banning freedom of speech on campus attempts to remove their right and ability to hear different opinions which is part of what being in college is about. While some of the voiced opinions may be hurtful and hateful toward another group of individuals the right to speak those opinions must be reserved and protected.
Across the nation colleges are wrestling with free speech question. Do they step in and regulate what can and cannot be said on their campus or do they step back and hope the students are able to use societal pressure to do the job? It is a question that has been tested in courts across the nation (Goodman, 1989).
Regulating or banning speech is something that is being done consistently lately and while it does protect it also hides the "enemy" from view.
For college campuses to regulate or ban speech they effectively drive into hiding the very people that we need to be leery of. If they are forbidden to speak their minds how do others know their feelings and how do they make informed decisions about who to associate with and how to combat hate? It is important that with the exception of threats, free speech be allowed on campus so that the constitution is protected, students can continue to grow in their ability to ascertain fact from fiction and in the end it will be clear who has narrow minded views and who is open minded, so that individuals can choose their alliances and friendships based on knowing where people stand.
Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire 1942.
Taking a Position on a Constitutional Issue '
Goodman, Laura (1989) Laura L. Goodman, Shacking Up with the First Amendment, 64 IND. L.J. 716 (1989).
Hinds deCourcey Michael. A Campus Case, Speech or Harassment. Taking a Position on a Constitutional Issue.