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Obama-Lynching Costume at UW Madison Protected by First Amendment?


November 1, 2016
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
Two fans at UW Madison's weekend football game wore costumes depicting Donald Trump lynching President Obama. The school, though stating the costume was repugnant and insensitive, backed the demonstration as free speech, protected under the First Amendment. Critics are now deeply concerned with the lack of action.

Two fans at UW Madison's weekend football game wore costumes depicting Donald Trump lynching President Obama. The school, though stating the costume was "repugnant" and "insensitive," backed the demonstration as free speech, protected under the First Amendment. Critics are now "deeply concerned" with the lack of action.

A photo of the costume went viral on social media and police asked the fans to "remove the offensive component of the costume." The man in the prison-striped effigy of Obama also wore a sandwich board with the message "What difference does it make now, Hillary?" and had a large cutout of Hillary Clinton's face masking his identity. The individuals were not forced to leave the stadium once they had complied with the orders, which outraged some who believe that "officials should have done more."

More than 60 people expressed their disapproval in a letter signed by the "University of Wisconsin-Madison Black and African-American Alumni." In it, they claimed to honor free speech as a "fundamental entitlement in our country." However, the "official response" to the incident was "in error," as the costume "incited race-based hatred by invoking lynching symbols, historically understood as a racist hate crime."

In your opinion, do you think the university should have taken another course of action? Should they have considered the costume hate speech with the potential of inciting a riot? Why or why not? Start a conversation with your thoughtful comments below.

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Charles K.  on  11/24/2016 8:11:20 PM commented:

That is how small people think. That kind of caricature is not free speech . It is clearly a hate speech that is seeking refuge under the first amendment. It is laughable how academicians can let that pass under their noses. But the parallel thinking faculty is not surprising. How can your dislike overshadowed your power of reasoning. People should grow up and find something better to do.

Ryan  on  11/9/2016 12:08:26 PM commented:

Everyone deserves the right to hate, and the 1st amendment gives that to them. If the protesters had been forced to stop, it would have proved that those who had objected could not handle hate, and would have said a lot more about them than the protesters.

Jakai T.  on  11/7/2016 3:26:05 PM commented:

It's horrifying and disgusting that things like this are still happening. If the campus wanted to make a difference in students' lives and show them that behavior like that is unacceptable, they would have done something. They obviously don't care about teaching their students anything worthwhile or letting them know you can't get away with things like this. Plus, Obama is still president for the moment. This should be illegal.

Robert K  on  11/7/2016 11:10:39 AM commented:

I believe freedom of speech is a huge right AND a responsibility. Racism is form of hate on a race and hate is not freedom of speech. Disapproval of things is part of freedom of speech but just plain hate is not. This is a racist act and although they may argue it is freedom of speech, it is a halloween costume, not a statement which furthers any strong movement or benefitting society.

Gedi G.  on  11/6/2016 5:20:40 AM commented:

The costume was racist and insensitive. The first amendment only supports freedom of speech when it is not offensive. The university should have done way more. Yet you can see by the photo that the majority of the college is white and since white people get away with everything, this must have been one of those instances. Slavery is over and whatever they were saying about Obama, they were also insinuating about what they think of Black people in general. The hanging rope around Obama's neck was unreasonable! There are so many ways they could have put what ever they were "trying to say" differently! The costume was disrespectful and makes other people feel like their lives are more in jeopardy if people are in support of the costume. The boys should have been Superman or a Joker and have called it a day.

Calvin J  on  11/5/2016 11:01:28 AM commented:

First Amendment rights should have a clause which should penalize individuals offending certain race,age,gender and we should definitely have a zero tolerance towards government officials.

JUDY C  on  11/2/2016 7:03:17 PM commented:

Threats against the POTUS are considered felonies. Since Barack Obama is still the POTUS then this threat to lynch him should be considered illegal and would fall outside of the realm of freedom of speech or expression or whatever other nonsense is being used to excuse this. Even if this threat wasn't considered a felony, it would appear that Black and African American students are viewing it as a threat. Would any other threat of this type be allowed? If a student portrayed a rape would that be acceptable? People get so defensive of inappropriate actions when race comes into play but would not be so lenient or accepting if it were not a factor.

Arianna G.  on  11/1/2016 8:19:58 PM commented:

Freedom of expression pertains to this kind of behavior. Regardless of the attitudes from the people that took offense to action, that costume did not physically threaten any citizens. For example Texas v. Johnson (where a man had burned the American flag) different kinds of options had rose but he was practicing his 1st amendment. This behavior might upset people but in the eyes of the court this behavior is protected by the first amendment.

Obama lynching costume  on  11/1/2016 6:26:18 PM commented:

The school should have took more action about such racist acts of those fans.. I understand Freedom of Speech is our Right, but when it is racist and offends others it should be consequences. Schools have rules and regulations that should forbid such racist actions and behavior. They should have been ask to leave or be escorted out by school officials, security or police. Trump certainly has his audience members who he is racist towards to leave escorted by security or police during his rallies. Freedom of Speech doesn't matter at his rallies. He takes action against what he thinks is nonsense The school should take action against racist nonsense unless the school approve of such racist actions.

Hunter E  on  11/1/2016 6:21:41 PM commented:

It does fall under both categories of racism and free speech protected by American rights. The true question is does it infringed upon another citizens rights? This will and should be the cause to see the result. Racism is still a scourge but it it not itself illegal.

Mario R.  on  11/1/2016 6:18:20 PM commented:

The two students who were wearing the costumes should have gotten a more serious punishment for what they were representing. The college should have taken action rather than stating their feelings on the matter. I do not think the lynching was race-based hatred, nor do i think they were expecting a riot. Perhaps the students were trying to be entertaining in a very crude manner. For that, they should receive a minor punishment. A simple its "repugnant" and "insensitive" will not end the problem. I may not yet know the penalties you get for committing an act like this in university, but they don't deserve jail time. No one was physically hurt from the start. The students may not have intended a riot. The officials should have made them leave the stadium. Technically, the first amendment would allow this. Therefore, they aren't breaking the law.

Maria B  on  11/1/2016 5:46:21 PM commented:

Personally, this is repugnant, and morally disgusting. Ironically, we have been discussing the extents to which the amendments should be carried out in my US History class. While I believe everyone is entitled to their freedom of expression as it explicitly says on the Constitution, I do believe there are boundaries. All politics aside, that is the depiction of the murder of a human being, regardless of race or status, all men are created equal, also stated explicitly in the Constitution. My opinion is that these individuals are in their god given right to express their thoughts and opinions, no matter how disgusting. But I also believe exposing a symbol of that nature completely goes against everything that this country was built on. It is very depressing to see these things, especially when someone makes it a big joke like these two did. If discrimination in the workplace is illegal, it should be everywhere else as well.

Chad E.  on  11/1/2016 5:37:57 PM commented:

Of course it is protected by the First Amendment!! You'd have to be the most Ignorant human being alive to think for one second that it isn't. Burning flags is covered, burning effigies of Trump is covered, and so is this. It's a Constitutional right. Period.

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