Community Issues

Student Looks to Spark Discussion on Anti-Semitism and Free Speech

Duquesne senior discusses his personal connection to Tree of Life tragedy.

What is the link between hate speech and hate crimes? What do the courts say about First Amendment protections for hate speech? Should the legal context for hate speech be reevaluated in the wake of violence? These are some of the questions Duquesne University senior David DeFelice is hoping to address in the wake of the Tree of Life Massacre in Pittsburgh, PA. DeFelice is hosting a panel discussion and symposium on anti-Semitism and the First Amendment on Monday, March 18.

"I hope we spark a much-needed conversation about hate speech, and what comes before the hate crimes," DeFelice said.

DeFelice said he started planning to host the event last fall, as part of his senior thesis. But the planning took on new urgency in October when 11 people were killed at the Tree of Life Congregation. The alleged gunman had a well-documented online history, advocating anti-Semitism and white supremacism on websites such as Gab.

"I started asking, why is it legal for somebody to call for the genocide of an entire religion of people?" DeFelice said.

DeFelice had a personal connection to the tragedy, he had been friends with Cecil Rosenthal since his freshman year at Duquesne when they were paired up as part of the Best Buddies program. Cecil and his brother David were killed in the shooting.

DeFelice and Rosenthal

"I always describe Cecil as gregarious," DeFelice said. "He was always the life of the party."

DeFelice said Rosenthal invited him to the synagogue at Tree of Life every week, and that he attended service there several times. He said he wants next week's symposium to honor the Rosenthals along with all of the 11 victims of the shooting.

The symposium's panelists include:

  • Josh Sayles, Director of the Community Relations Council for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
  • Prof. Bruce Ledewitz, Professor of Law at Duquesne University
  • Alana Bandos, Regional Education Director of the Anti-Defamation League
  • Stephanie Reiss, Attorney and ACLU representative

DeFelice says he realizes people will come down on different sides of issues such as free speech vs. hate speech. But he also says that it is important, especially on college campuses, for people to engage in honest, academic debate.

"I want people to come out of the event with more questions than answers," DeFelice said.

The symposium starts at 6:00 p.m. Monday, and will be followed by a reception at 8:00 p.m. The event is free and open to all.

Photos courtesy of David DeFelice.

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