“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Most Americans consider this, the first of the ten Bill of Rights, the most important guarantee to Americans of the Constitution. Many think the Bill of Rights dictated to the People what authority, rights, and power we have given to us by our government. However, the exact opposite is true: Each of those ten amendments informed the government what powers the People expressly released TO the government. Any others not detailed in those ten amendments belong to the People — not the government. This fact is mentioned often in discussions about the Second Amendment, but seldom in conversations about the First Amendment. It should be the other way around.
Everybody knows the right to free speech is universal and everyone understands and respects it, right? Not so much anymore, unfortunately. There are people in the United States who gleefully parse speech contents of thousands of Americans and are quick to “pull them down.” What does “pull them down” mean and who does it? “Pull them down” means to block or delete spoken or printed words from some source seen or heard by the public. And those who sit at the desk of “Speech Think Police” are the sole arbiters of Free Speech in America. And those folks live and work in many different places parts of the American information landscape: Newspaper, radio, and television editors, Social Media editors, even publishing company editors, and, certainly, political elites.
We could launch into the specifics of hundreds of examples of today’s abridgment of Free Speech. We won’t do that. We will, however, give you examples from the “10,000-foot” level. You’ll understand our thought process after thinking through THAT process.
How many college campus Free Speech rallies have you heard that were canceled either before or stopped during because of demonstrations that often devolved into riots? Dozens and dozens of such cancellations have happened in the last several years. In fact, it is now more common than not for speakers with a certain political ilk to be banned from appearing at such rallies, especially on liberal university campuses.
Before we move forward, consider the previous sentence: “speakers are banned from appearing at rallies on college campuses.” College campuses were formerly the incubators for new ideas. During the ’60s and ’70s, campuses were the hot spot for the introduction of new political and social ideas. Those campuses were the “Moms” that gave birth to numerous currently embraced concepts. And they each were birthed through the First Amendment: NO government control of speech which meant ANY idea was allowed to be expressed.
Within that context, do you think there’s something sinister going on in our nation today regarding Free Speech? Our examination begins with “Hate Speech.”
Hate speech is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. Hate speech is “usually thought to include communications of animosity or disparagement of an individual or a group on account of a group characteristic such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, or sexual orientation.”
There has been much debate about freedom of speech, hate speech and hate speech legislation. The laws of some countries describe hate speech as speech, gestures, conduct, writing, or displays that incite violence or prejudicial actions against a group or individuals on the basis of their membership in the group, or which disparage or intimidate a group or individuals on the basis of their membership in the group. The law may identify a group based on certain characteristics. In some countries, hate speech is not a legal term.
A website that contains hate speech (online hate speech) may be called a hate site.
Those conclusions about Hate Speech certainly force us to consider the First Amendment. Are Americans no longer accepting that Amendment as a necessary part of our lives? If so, how do they justify their opposition?
First, I doubt any American if asked would say “I want to abolish the First Amendment.” Generally, that feeling is almost universal. But when drilling down to determine what that means, some may change their tunes a bit. Let’s use Hate Speech to make this easy to understand.
There certainly are horrible things that are said from time to time that many wish would not be said. Some things are just unacceptable and certainly distasteful. As an example, few think it’s OK to demean someone’s personal appearance. During the 2016 presidential campaign, millions jumped on then Candidate Donald Trump for what they felt were disturbing words to denigrate a Washington Post reporter, Serge Kovaleski, who has a physical disability. That incident raised immediate uproar against Mr. Trump for his alleged “Hate Speech.”
So why don’t we just stop such examples from ever happening?
The Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly rejected government attempts to prohibit or punish “hate speech.” Instead, the Court has come to identify within the First Amendment a guarantee of “freedom for the thought that we hate,” as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes described the concept in a 1929 dissent. In a 2011 ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts described our national commitment to protecting “hate speech” in order to preserve a robust democratic dialogue:
Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.
In other words, the First Amendment recognizes that the government cannot regulate “hate speech” without inevitably silencing the dissent and dialogue that democracy requires. Instead, we as citizens possess the power to most effectively answer hateful speech—whether through debate, protest, questioning, laughter, silence, or simply walking away.
As Justice Louis Brandeis put it, the framers of the Bill of Rights “believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.”
Justice Brandeis argued that our nation’s founders believed that prohibiting “evil counsels”—what today we might call “hate speech”—would backfire:
They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope, and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by the law – the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.
Banning “hate speech” without restricting political speech is tremendously difficult because of subjectivity. Each American certainly has a different understanding of exactly what expression should lose First Amendment protection as “hate speech.” One citizen’s hateful speech is another’s religious text; one citizen’s slur is another’s term of endearment; or, as the Court put it, “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.” As a result, creating a generally applicable definition of “hate speech” is all but impossible without silencing someone’s “legitimate” speech.
“Hate speech” is also a moving target, making a real definition still impossible to find. Conceptions of what constitutes “hate” do not remain stable over time. As ideas gain or lose acceptance, political movements advance or recede, and social commitments strengthen or erode, notions of what is unacceptably “hateful” change, too. Today’s majority viewpoint should not be allowed to foreclose that of tomorrow.
For example, thirty years ago, the Board of Regents of Texas A & M University sought to deny recognition to a gay student organization because it believed that “so-called ‘gay’ activities run diabolically counter to the traditions and standards of Texas A & M.” At the time, the Board may have voiced the majority view, which found the gay students’ speech to be beyond the pale. Today, the opposite characterization might be true.
In some countries, including the United States, hate speech is constitutionally protected. In other countries, a victim of hate speech may seek redress under civil law, criminal law, or both. But one thing is certain: our founders came to America from living under a government that dominated in determination of what could be and not be used in speech by their citizens and retained the unilateral authority to arbitrarily determine what was and what was not OK to use and who could use it.
What happens when governments regulate speech?
Unlike the United States, there are a variety of countries that cannot practice freedom of speech, including Burma, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Libya. Other countries that abide by a strict censorship include Cuba, Syria, Eritrea and Uzbekistan.
A strict censorship basically isolates the citizens of these countries because the government prevents the media from providing any information on the rest of the world. Typically, these governments will impose violence on any journalists who come in to report news or to seek information on the well being of citizens living in these countries. There are also laws in place that restrict the use of the Internet and prevent citizens from speaking out negatively against the government.
Are we headed for our government taking away our rights to Free Speech?
Under the guise of advancing what anti-free speech groups refer to as “human rights,” the dictator-dominated global body is waging a full-blown assault on free-speech rights by pressuring governments to criminalize so-called “hate speech.” Indeed, working alongside radical government-funded activist groups and anti-liberty politicians around the world, the UN and other totalitarian-minded forces have now reached the point where they openly claim that what they call “international law” actually requires governments to ban speech and organizations they disapprove of. Critics are fighting back in an effort to protect freedom of speech. Think about it: the United Nations — a supposed peaceful, rights-thinking world organization headquartered in southeast New York City is pushing for the abolition of free speech!
UN “human rights” bureaucrats are currently terrorizing and bullying people of Japan — among others — in an effort to drastically curtail speech rights. Pointing to a tiny group of anti-Korean activists holding demonstrations in Japan, politicians and self-styled promoters of “human rights” have also joined the UN in its Soviet-inspired crusade to ban free expression. The Japanese Constitution, however, like the American one, includes strong protections for freedom of speech. Still, that has not stopped the UN from seeking to impose its radical speech restrictions on Japan anyway.
Meanwhile, right here in the United States, groups like ANTIFA (which stands for “Anti-Fascist”) are attacking conservatives left and right at Free Speech rallies around the country, stating that in doing so, they are stopping those who denigrate certain groups or individuals. Those groups and individuals that are the supposed “protection ones” one ANTIFA don’t exist! ANTIFA is nothing more than a 100-year-old political activist European organization that is a remnant of Nazi Germany! Don’t believe it? Check your history book.
There is no doubt Americans need to tamp-down our hateful, denigrating, and caustic rhetoric — both in writing and speaking. We need to embrace the universal belief that we are all created equal in the eyes of our Creator and therefore each have “unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Our Constitution while re-stating those tenets of basic Humanity is the roadmap of freedom for all people. And that means that there are people who are hateful, who choose to demean others personally for all manner of things they view as are wrong with those others. As evil as that may be for them to do, Free Speech from the First Amendment gives all that basic right.
Here’s what is at the end of the road of American governments — local, state, and federal — stepping in and putting Big Brother’s foot down on derogatory things spoken or written by others: Where does their doing so stop? Who decides what is wrong to say or write, what can or cannot be said, spoken, written, or sung in a song? Who decides who makes the rules?
Americans — if enough feel doing so is justified — have a legal method to change it all: Amend the Constitution. Our framers, knowing that American life would change in many ways, made sure to create a clear path for altering our founding structure.
So here’s what we do: Follow the Process! I’m not going to teach a Civics class here. For those who want to abolish the Second Amendment, read the Constitution and set the Amendment process in motion.
Our structure of government is a Representative Republic. It was founded and exists as such for reasons just like this. Reasonable people can disagree. But those same reasonable people must choose legal methods to resolve disagreements. It would be foolish to try to do otherwise. Without taking the path of Constitutional guidance, all that will be accomplished is Anarchy and all that comes with it.
ANTIFA has already opened that door to Pandora’s Box. Do Leftist Anti-Free Speech proponents really want to try that road?
My prediction is if tried, what is at the end of the road will not be attractive for them. And when done, the Second Amendment will still be intact.
Oh: so will the First Amendment!