Free Speech vs. Discrimination

By Roberta Achtenberg The Washington Post | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 29, 1994 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Free Speech vs. Discrimination


Roberta Achtenberg The Washington Post, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Earlier this month the Department of Housing and Urban Development concluded an investigation into a controversial housing discrimination complaint in Berkeley, Calif. Fair-housing advocates there alleged that a group of private citizens had violated the housing rights of people with disabilities when they opposed plans to turn the Bel Air Motel on University Avenue in downtown Berkeley into low-income housing for recovering alcoholics and substance-abusers. The advocates' complaint was filed under the Fair Housing Act.

HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) investigated the complaint, as we are required to do by law. Unfortunately, the investigation sparked charges that HUD was attempting to squelch the project foes' constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech.

Following a thorough inquiry, HUD found that the facts developed in its investigation did not support a finding that discrimination had occurred. The Berkeley citizens acted within their First Amendment, free-speech rights.

The First Amendment's guarantee of citizens' rights to speak out on issues of public importance is one of the sacred pillars of our system. Under no circumstances would we consider ordinary political activity, speech or organizing a violation of the Fair Housing Act. Furthermore, every attempt is being made to ensure that HUD's inquiries do not have a chilling effect on political activity or the exercise of free speech.

The fact remains, however, that HUD also has an obligation to protect citizens against discrimination in housing. When Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and later amended it in 1988, it said it is illegal to "coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere" with any person's exercise of fair housing rights under the act, and explicitly stated that "harassment of persons because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin" could be found unlawful.

Congress has said, in other words, that the First Amendment does not protect all forms of speech when it comes to housing discrimination. For example, the First Amendment does not protect a landlord or a neighbor who employs intimidation or verbal abuse to discourage someone from moving into housing because of his race, religion or disability. Fair housing rights were held paramount last month when an administrative law judge imposed a $300,000 fine on a woman who engaged in a "relentless campaign of intimidation" to force African-Americans out of public housing in Vidor, Texas.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Free Speech vs. Discrimination
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?