Hate speech is speech which attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender. We have seen hate speech used again and again throughout modern history, but never in the U.S. as we see now. Is hate speech actually protected speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment?
“Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” What does this mean today? Generally speaking, it means that the government may not jail, fine, or impose civil liability on people or organizations based on what they say or write, except in exceptional circumstances. Although the First Amendment says “Congress,” the Supreme Court has held that speakers are protected against all government agencies and officials: federal, state, and local, and legislative, executive, or judicial. The First Amendment does not protect speakers, however, against private individuals or organizations, such as private employers, private colleges, or private landowners. The First Amendment restrains only the government. The Supreme Court has interpreted “speech” and “press” broadly as covering not only talking, writing, and printing, but also broadcasting, using the Internet, and other forms of expression. The freedom of speech also applies to symbolic expression, such as displaying flags, burning flags, wearing armbands, burning crosses, and the like. The Supreme Court has held that restrictions on speech because of its content—that is, when the government targets the speaker’s message—generally violate the First Amendment. Laws that prohibit people from criticizing a war, opposing abortion, or advocating high taxes are examples of unconstitutional content-based restrictions. Such laws are thought to be especially problematic because they distort public debate and contradict a basic principle of self-governance: that the government cannot be trusted to decide what ideas or information “the people” should be allowed to hear.
There are generally three situations in which the government can constitutionally restrict speech under a less demanding standard.
1. In some circumstances, the Supreme Court has held that certain types of speech are of only “low” First Amendment value, such as: Defamation, True threats, “Fighting Words,” Obscenity, Child Pornography, and Commercial Advertising;
Outside these narrow categories of “low” value speech, most other content-based restrictions on speech are presumptively unconstitutional. Even entertainment, vulgarity, “hate speech,” blasphemy (speech that offends people’s religious sensibilities), and violent video games are protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has generally been very reluctant to expand the list of “low” value categories of speech.
2. The government can restrict speech under a less demanding standard when the speaker is in a special relationship to the government. For example, the speech of government employees and of students in public schools can be restricted, even based on content, when their speech is incompatible with their status as public officials or students. A teacher in a public school, for example, can be punished for encouraging students to experiment with illegal drugs, and a government employee who has access to classified information generally can be prohibited from disclosing that information. Pickering v. Board of Education (1968).
3. The government can also restrict speech under a less demanding standard when it does so without regard to the content or message of the speech. Content-neutral restrictions, such as restrictions on noise, blocking traffic, and large signs (which can distract drivers and clutter the landscape), are generally constitutional as long as they are “reasonable.”
Let’s be realistic: hate speech is tearing the Nation apart right now. And one of the biggest problems with it is who defines what is hate speech. Technically “hate speech” in itself is non-political, but those on the Left and those on the Right politically sure characterize it that way. And many on either side of the political spectrum claim moral superiority that gives them the authority to determine what is and what is not hate speech. Obviously, each side claims what the other is saying is hate speech. In the end we fall into that conundrum which has actually put us in the deep divide in which we find ourselves.
Throughout U.S. history we’ve seen attempts to legislate and control what is called “hate speech” by various groups and individuals. Sometimes in demonstrations gone bad violence occurs. In the Kent State riots in 1970, the Ohio National Guard killed 4 Kent State students and 9 others were seriously injured when students demonstrated against the Vietnam War. As you can imagine, some of the people there were against the Vietnam War, others were in support of the War. Peaceful demonstrations included emotional speeches and verbal interactions between the two sides and the National Guard that escalated and escalated. What was called “hate speech” evolved into violence and death. We know now that the government cannot regulate hate speech.
So what do we do? Instead of trying to legislate or choke hate speech, we should encourage it. “Are you crazy?” you may ask. No, let’s think this through:
What is the seed that almost always is guilty of giving birth to violence? Hatred. What is the seed of Hatred? Fear of the unknown. How do we as a nation get a handle on getting rid of Hatred? We must get rid of the unknown. And how can we do that? That answer is simple: Let the haters speak!
Not knowing something does not mean a person is stupid. When that person does not know something, has the resources to turn to for getting a true answer so as to learn the truth and then does nothing about it, that is stupid! Wait a minute: there’s no manual on the shelf that is titled “How to Identify and get rid of Hate Speech,” is there? But there IS a tried and proven method for doing that already in existence and has been for hundreds if not thousands of years. It’s Communication.
In today’s world, we are struggling to rid our nation and the world of hate speech. The problem begins with defining what hate speech is, then gets even bigger when we try to determine who has the right and authority to determine what is hate speech and what is not. In spite of what pundits and members of the Media and members of the Government want us to think, the only people who can identify hate speech and do anything about it are American People! And there’s no way for this process to happen without hearing from those from the various sides of a conflict, from Americans through listening to each side of any issue, and then making a determination. In fact, that’s the example of true “Free Speech.”
College campuses have for decades been the incubator for facilitating this to occur in Free Speech Zones. Free Speech Zones were created and initially operated centuries ago in Ancient Greece. In the 70’s when I was in college, there was a dedicated spot on my college campus at which anyone could come to and speak on any topic he or she desired. Other students were encouraged to listen politely, then ask questions and make comments when appropriate. This was a common practice. What else was common was for conversational discourse to occur which ultimately resulted in understanding each other’s positions on a specific topic. In the big scheme of things, these understandings led to the dispelling of the unknowns in the minds of college students participating in those conversations. Clarifying unknowns killed the fear which did away with the hatred. True, not everyone agreed with each other at that point. But what did happen almost every time were conversations about specifics with very little or no spewed venom, screaming at each other, and definitely no violence. It worked then…it will work now. The problem has been we have seen multiple groups with one goal in mind and one only: to silence the opposition at all cost, when in reality the only way to clear this air is to LET EVERYONE TALK! What happens is when people speak — including “hate speakers” — their true positions are exposed. That open discourse is NOT conducive to any physicality and certainly any violence. Such dialogue may not suffice to bring others to one’s side, but what it WILL do is take a large portion of the negativity out of the conversation. Hatred can only exist in an environment of fear of the unknown.
Want an example of how allowing the speaking out of Hate Speakers can dramatically erode hate and anger? At the height of the existence of the KKK, the group claimed 4 million adherents. Most Americans preferred to never hear from KKK members because most Americans were sickened by the KKK. Their activities were well documented. When other Americans heard from the KKK and learned the substance of their racism and proposed solutions, those Americans were turned off. Subsequently through the years the KKK took a big hit in membership. Recently a study showed KKK membership had dropped to less than 3,000. Why the dramatic drop? When the light of truth is shined on something evil, most people will walk away from it. When evil’s reality is hidden, people are prevented from obtaining facts and therefore simply don’t know. That evil will survive and will grow unless it is revealed to the masses.
As hard as it may be to think about, taking the self appointed, self righteous Alt Left “Hate Speech” police out of the equation and allowing real Hate Speakers to share their philosophies with Americans is the only certain way we will ever do away with Hate Speech. Americans as a rule are NOT racist, NOT homophobic, and NOT bigoted. Let’s trust Americans to hear the details of White Supremacists are all about. Then let’s trust Americans to determine for themselves what is and what is not Hate Speech. If we do that, the hate filled atmosphere choking our nation will simply melt away.
Knowing the truth results in decisions based on truth rather than emotion. Let’s stop trying to quash free speech and let those from every political ilk tell their stories. Let’s trust ourselves and fellow Americans to make the right choices for our country based on hearing facts and drawing conclusions from evidence and not just from emotional allegations as is happening now. It will work — it has very successfully before.