The call to ban hate speech now comes from many political corners – even from groups who typically would never have previously considered it an option. In the wake of the recent national anthem kneeling fiasco in the NFL and the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, a ban on at least some forms of offensive expression seems considerably more justifiable to many – on the left and right alike.
The First Amendment protects even offensive speech using absolute language with no room for negotiation, but there are plenty who now consider either an outright repeal or at least a “clarification” perfectly reasonable. Make no mistake; there was a reason the First Amendment was written as an absolute. All tyranny needs to gain a foothold in America is a ban on “hate speech.”
A Generation of Junior Despots
While the eroding belief in free speech appears in all generations, it is millennials – with their desire to spare peers from bullying – who might just put the last nail in Liberty’s coffin. Liberty Nation’s Tim Donner addresses free speech and the millennial generation in an article for The Washington Times:
“A surprising number of students at no less an institution than Yale University enthusiastically signed a petition from filmmaker and satirist Ami Horowitz in 2015 calling for an outright repeal of the First Amendment. Mr. Horowitz said a “solid majority” of Yale students he approached supported the repeal, and that it took just one hour for him to collect 50 signatures.”
The fact that a clear majority of the men and women who will someday lead this nation favor repealing the First Amendment all together is astonishing – and it should be terrifying.
This Pandora’s Box Contains Only Chaos
So let us assume that the Constitution is further amended to include a “hate speech clause.” How would we proceed from there? Who would determine what constitutes hate speech and what should remain protected? Mr. Donner paints a likely picture of the chaos that would ensue once we open that Pandora’s box:
“Imagine the arguments that would ensue. Conservatives and liberals would battle endlessly about who should be selected to sit in judgment of the speech of their constituents or fellow citizens. Those on the left would likely focus on references to race and ethnicity. Those on the right might set their sights on false accusations of racism or sexism (which might also enter the realm of libel and slander). Each of the various identity groups would weigh in with their own demands and definitions of hate speech.
Lawsuits based on the new limits on speech would abound. Without absolute statutory parameters, judges would make their own subjective determinations in cases which come before them. That would dramatically increase the already loud cries about judicial bias.”
Everyone would have their own definition of hate speech, and everyone would want it to go into the legal definition – something that has never existed in America since even hate speech is still protected.
Political Opinion is Hate Speech
A red flag in this argument is the desire of some on the right to ban flag burning because of its unpatriotic nature, even though the Supreme Court has ruled it protected speech. Some conservatives also decry kneeling for the Star Spangled Banner, though that is widely misunderstood as a first amendment issue when it is not – NFL players work for a private business that sets whatever boundaries it desires on its employees.
On the other side, the left believes every point of conservative belief is rooted in bigotry, and that Donald Trump represents such a unique existential threat that exceptions to the first amendment must be introduced. With both sides muddying the waters by labeling the political views of their opponents as hate speech, there should be no doubt that a ban initially created to protect minorities from abuse would quickly become a political weapon. This is precisely the sort of despotism the Founders and Framers sought to prevent:
“But the highest form of protected speech is political speech. The Founders and Framers of the U.S. Constitution had just fought a war over their right to dissent and separate from the British Crown, and they were intent on allowing the type of political expression forbidden by their English overlords. And yet, it is just such political speech that many now seek to limit.”
But What About Europe?
Proponents of a hate speech ban love pointing to Europe:
“Furthermore, they assert that even our strongest, most reliable allies such as England, France and Germany do not have constitutionally protected speech. In those countries, one can be prosecuted for spoken or written words. So why should the U.S. be different?”
True, after some adjustment period while the nation gets used to the new law of the land, the U.S. would end up a lot like our European allies were we to repeal or amend our free speech protection. So, let’s take a look at Europe.
In October 2015, France’s Court of Cassation upheld a conviction of 12 people who protested in 2009 and 2010. What was their crime? They wore t-shirts emblazoned with “Boycott Israel.” This is a violation of French prohibition on hate speech? It’s important to note, here, that it was leftists who boycotted Israel – the same sort of people who clamor the loudest in the U.S. for hate speech restrictions.
How about England? Well, Paul Weston, leader and co-founder of the Liberty GB party in the UK, was arrested mid-speech in 2014 for quoting Winston Churchill – who was, apparently, an Islamophobe.
Unrestricted free speech – especially political opinions some may find offensive – is the cornerstone of American freedom. One final point from Tim’s piece in The Times:
“But one of the most passionate defenders of free speech was the very father of our country and first president, George Washington, who warned: ‘If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.’”
There is enough restriction on true American liberty as it is – let us not provide tyranny any more of a foothold than it already has. Let us never be cowed by those intent on overturning the most essential freedom which has, from its inception, defined America.