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March 12, 2015 — The policing of hate speech

Earlier this week, a video showing members of a University of Oklahoma fraternity singing a racist song during an outing to a golf club went viral.

The punishments were as swift as they were stunning. The fraternity chapter, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, was expelled from campus. Two students identified in the video were also expelled. The national Sigma Alpha Epsilon organization revoked the charter of the OU fraternity.

All these sanctions occurred within 48 hours.

There have been other very swift punishments for statements of racial, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic natures on social media in recent years. Some student-athletes have lost scholarships. Some people have lost their jobs.

But these punishments have not kept up with thousands of such precipitating incidents, such as tweets reacting to political speeches, to the nationality of national-anthem speakers, pictures of models, or controversies such as the shooting of Michael Brown.

Which brings us to a picture which has been going around the Internet of a female Navy veteran, wearing blue camouflage, holding her newborn baby swaddled in an American flag.

Technically, this is illegal; the American flag is not meant to hold or carry anything, nor is an American flag supposed to be worn. Instead, the flag is meant to fly free.

But what is troubling is the reaction to the photo, from the Internet and beyond. Death threats have been leveled by some Internet users against the photographer, a small businesswoman from the Virginia Beach area.

While violation of the U.S. Flag Code is a violation of our laws, so are terroristic threats. And I think we all agree that these kinds of threats should be dealt with as severely as the racism displayed in the Oklahoma video.

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