Certain members of what used to be the University of Oklahoma chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon should probably switch campuses.
Too much damage has already been done. It'll take years for SAE to return to acceptable levels of respect in Norman, and by now possibly the whole of Oklahoma.
Much like everyone else who saw the video of fraternity members singing a very racist, very inappropriate chant on a bus, I was horrified. It seemed like no punishment was enough for the people responsible for the sort of behavior that many believed was on its way out of American society.
And yet, the Constitution tells us even words like those used in that chant cannot be punished by governmental authority. This includes the state school, OU.
Compare the SAE case to a similar incident of racism that happened in Paris recently. Fans of English soccer team Chelsea -- who was playing a game in the French capitol the same evening -- were recorded pushing a black man off of a train.
They were then heard chanting "We're racist, and that's the way we like it." Much like the SAE incident over here, the outcry was widespread and immediate. Since it was in France, an additional avenue can be pursued.
Three fans were identified as basically the cause of the incident, and they can now face prosecution under French law. It is illegal in France to insult someone based on their race, and infractions come with a significant fine.
This is, of course, not the case in America, because we have a Constitutional amendment protecting speech. Not all speech is protected, but the limitations are very small.
In the wake of their own racism incident, everything short of prosecution has happened to SAE. They've been kicked off campus, publicly humiliated, families have had death threats lodged against them; according to at least one report, the SAE chapter faced an investigation.
Basically, I get the sense that if the Oklahoma Attorney General or the U.S. Justice Department came out and pressed charges for, say, hate speech against those SAE members, the general American public would be OK with that.
And I'm not sure how I feel about this. In no way would I ever condone the actions of those SAE members on that bus. Actually if I just had the world my way, I'd make racism illegal. I'd ban the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and do everything I can to push people who promote racism and inequality to the fringes of society.
But even I realize none of that is possible while also promoting a society where free speech is regarded as a crucial right not to be infringed upon. Moving forward, we have to decide as a nation where the free speech line is.
Should we outlaw racism, at the cost of some free speech rights? Or do we move ahead understanding that, while we may not like what those SAE members chanted on that bus, we have to accept their right to say it?