Civil Discourse

A Statement on Hate Speech and Free Speech

One of the issues that has afflicted educational institutions in recent years is the mistaken belief that principles of intellectual freedom and respect for the feelings of others are somehow in conflict. At St. Albans, there is a genuine effort to see these principles as part of a larger unity, bound together by the conviction that love of knowledge and love for others are sacred obligations that rest on the same moral and spiritual foundation. At St. Albans, we aspire to live in the grace of these two forms of love. As an academic community grounded in the liberal arts tradition, we believe that the free and vigorous exchange of ideas promotes the intellectual and personal growth of our students and prepares them for life in a complex, diverse society where citizens often disagree on matters of fundamental importance.

As a moral community grounded in the spiritual principle that all humans are entitled to equal dignity and respect, we believe that discussion and disagreement must always take place within a context that affirms the humanity of every person in our school family. We welcome speech that advances learning and enlarges our perspectives on complex ideas and issues about which reasonable people of goodwill can and often do disagree. And as our students prepare for the responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society characterized by conflict, dissent, and divergent opinions, they must learn that not all speech which challenges their opinions and beliefs is necessarily “hate speech.” Conflict and disagreement are endemic to life in a democracy. And as long as disagreements on ideas and issues occur within a framework of respect, civility, and integrity, learning how to negotiate disagreement and difference—with courage and with character—is critical to our students’ education.

But there is no place in our school community for speech that demeans or marginalizes individuals based on their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other category. “Freedom of speech” is not a sanctuary for those who weaponize language to hurt and intimidate others. For freedom of speech to serve its intended goals—of advancing learning, deepening understanding, and helping us thoughtfully navigate the disagreements that are inevitable in a complex democracy—it must rest on a foundation of mutual respect and trust. Freedom in this deeper sense is not a condition that spontaneously comes into being. It requires work. It is a collective achievement made possible by our commitment to educating young men in the thoughtful, discerning, and responsible use of freedom. Hate speech erodes the foundations of a true learning community. Only when all members of our school family feel a sense of value and belonging can meaningful discourse—and meaningful disagreement—occur.
Located in Washington D.C.,  St. Albans School is a private, all boys day and boarding school. For more than a century, St. Albans has offered a distinctive educational experience for young men in grades 4 through 12. While our students reach exceptional academic goals and exhibit first-rate athletic and artistic achievements, as an Episcopal school we place equal emphasis upon moral and spiritual education.