The Constitution of America protects the right to free speech. This is a freedom that we have used liberally. However, where do we cross the line between “free” and “hate” speech? We take a closer look at that today.
What is free speech?
As a part of the First Amendment, Americans enjoy the freedom of speech. This means that they have the legal right to express any opinions, which may include offensive words or phrases, without censorship or restraint. To further explain, if you’ve ever heard the sentence “I may not like what you say but I defend your right to say it” that’s free speech. This covers written works as well.
What is hate speech?
Hate speech is a verbal or written attack on a person, group or culture on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and many more. Hate speech, as we’ve seen through history, can be dangerous if and when it is allowed to prosper.
What’s the difference between the two?
Hate speech often incites violence and promotes prejudice. Free speech does not include the right to incite any form of action that causes direct or indirect harm to others.
What’s sad about this discussion is that now there are people who make use of “free speech” as a cover for their vitriolic views.
Do they have a legal leg to stand on?
The answer is both yes and no.
It is yes in the sense that in 2011, our Supreme Court favored the rights of the Westboro Baptist Church to hold protests with offensive signage. It was all under the provision that the speech does not lead to imminent violence.
As for the no part of the legal standpoint, it was just this past June where our Supreme Court affirmed that there is no ‘hate speech’ exception to our First Amendment law.
If that’s the case, why is the free speech excuse still being used?
The people who use hate speech on a regular basis make use of “free speech” as a shield simply because they can. Also, there has been no outright condemnation from our governing body. In the eyes of the law, as long as a group or a person does not use their speech to incite violence or imminent harm, they get a pass.
It should be pointed out, however, that white supremacists have always included a violence-driven narrative in their speeches. Over recent events, several chapters of the ACLU have declared that they will no longer defend the free speech rights of armed protestors.
This comes at the wake of the deadly Charlottesville clash a month previously. We, as a people, need to become more aware of the intrinsic differences between free speech and hate speech. The last time hate speech was allowed to take root in a nation, world war broke out. So it’s doubly ironic now that our nation seems to be diving in headfirst into chaos and fascism. We need to take a stand against hate speech.