Because of the racist idiots in Charlottesville, VA several weeks ago(and if you’re not sure what I’m talking about—where the heck have you been?), I’ve seen dozens of posts about “hate speech” and free speech and the First Amendment. I’ve seen people—some that I like a lot—suggesting that “hate speech” isn’t protected by the First Amendment.
That scares me so much it gives me chills just to type it.
For quick reference, The First Amendment reads:
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.
Y’see, that’s the beauty of the First Amendment: it gives you the ability to express any ideals—regardless of how idiotic I find them to be—freely and openly. So, yes, Nazis have a right to stand in the public and spew their anti-Jewish Aryan nation hate. And yes, BLM has the right to yell they smell bacon and death to pigs. I don’t like or agree with either of those opinions, but the First Amendment does give them the right to say those things even though the over-whelming majority of us (and I’m assuming most everyone reading this) find those opinions deplorable.
My dad and I have had the discussion about flag burning. His dad (my grandfather) fought real Nazis in WW2 and it really bothers him to see people burning and/or stomping on the flag. It bothers me, too—I don’t like to see it. But where Dad and I differ is he suggests that it might should be illegal to do that (not strongly, but it’s something he’s kicked out as a response to it). As repulsive as I find flag burning, I don’t think the act should be illegal. Now, if you grab MY flag and burn it, then that is both theft and destruction of property that is not your own—you should go to jail! But if you want to spend your own money and buy a flag just to burn…well, that’s your right to do so.
The same is true for “hate speech.” The First Amendment protects the right for people to talk hateful. No, I don’t like it, and I don’t agree with the speech, but I do know the First Amendment protects it–and it should. I think people who want to take away the right of free speech are very scary people. The problem is, as always, where does it stop and who decides what is “okay” speech and what is not? We can’t agree on that—so it’s best to let everyone expression an opinion. Because, after all, WHO determines what “hate speech” exactly is. I know that I don’t want some people making that determination, and I’m sure there are many who wouldn’t want me making that determination. After all, I think any anti-comic book speech is hate speech! Thankfully for those comic book haters, the First Amendment protects you.
The exception to the First Amendment is, of course, something like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. But that’s not “expressing an opinion,” that’s “yelling wolf” (if you don’t know that reference, look it up). There’s a big difference.
The beauty of the First Amendment is that it is for everyone, not just the people you agree with. Believe it or not, I’m willing to fight for your right to say you hate me and to call me a bigot, homophobe, hillbilly, cracker, Southern redneck or whatever else you desire.
But the First Amendment is about SPEECH. The minute your fist hits my face, the First Amendment is no longer under consideration.