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In Defense Of Hate Speech

August 16, 2017

But Rodney, how can you defend their right to free speech? They are using that free speech to call for genocide. Surely you can’t be supportive of that!

Yesterday I talked about Nazis and racism. I explained that as distasteful as their beliefs are, supporting their right to protest does not make me a racist. (Sorry Kids, Apparently Daddy Is A Racist.) Today, I’m going to discuss a little more exactly why I support their right to protest.

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 redress of grievances.

– United States Constitution Amendment 1

There’s a lot packed into the first amendment. I’m going to skip the religion, press and petition for grievances, and instead focus on two part: freedom of speech and peaceable assembly.

Let me get one thing out of the way first: I find the Nazism, fascism and racism as despicable. I find nothing redeeming in any of the ideologies. I think those who knowing follow any of the three are typically lacking the mental capacity to understand the degraded position they are supporting. Racism? Bad. Nazism? Bad. Fascism? Bad. No “look at both sides.” No, “All opinions count.” Nope. They are bad.

So, if I believe that, why would I argue for the ability of these hate monger to speak or assemble? Didn’t we fight a war to rid of Nazism? No, we did not. The Second World War wasn’t an effort to kill Nazis. It was an effort to make Nazis stop killing others. And as soon as the war was over, we immediately stopped killing Nazis.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

I’m not sure we believe this any more. I’ve seen many people prepared to answer insults with fists; hateful rhetoric with violence. In those cases, the person using their fists and violence is wrong.

But, Rodney, Hate Speech isn’t protected by the first amendment.

Actually, it is. According to Politfact (and a whole bunch of lawyer types, and the Supreme Court) there is no Hate Speech exception for the first amendment. So, does that mean anyone can say anything and get away with it? Nope. There are three exceptions to the free speech protections in the first amendment.

Fire!

You cannot make statements designed to create panic. The classic, “Yelling FIRE in a crowded theater” is not free speech. Hate speech is not designed to create a panic.

Slander/Libel

You cannot slander private individuals. For example, I write a column for my local paper. If I write a column accusing my neighbor of having an affair I do not have protection for that. However, if I say that the Mayor is having an affair, I do have a case for free speech since the Mayor is a public figure.

Threats

Okay, here we go. This is the one that we can get the Hate Groups on, right? After all, the Nazis want to exterminate entire groups of people, specifically jews and gays, although anyone with is “different” is libel to be targeted. The KKK wants to kill blacks. Isn’t that a threat? No. Not legally. A threat has to be an actual threat and has to have at least a chance of happening. If I threaten someone who lives across the country and I say, “I’m gonna head over to your house and beat you to a pulp,” a court would probably find that my threat was mere hyperbole. But, if I told my neighbor I’m gonna head over to your house and beat you to a pulp, the courts would probably find that it was a credible threat.

If a group avoids these three areas, their speech is protected.

But, what about lies? The 1st Amendment doesn’t cover lies, does it?

This might be unpleasant to hear, but lying is not illegal. If you are not selling a product, you can lie and enjoy the protection of the 1st Amendment. Of course, if you slander or libel someone, then you forfeit the right to free speech.

A friend suggest that the founding fathers didn’t have a good idea of the types of hate speech we would have to deal with. My friend suggested that maybe the Constitutional protection of free speech is really an idea that is not longer relevant. I disagree. I think the founders understood the idea of a changing landscape and included the freedom of speech in the first amendment on purpose.

One more thought on the first amendment. It only constrains the government, not private businesses. If you are in Walmart and you are dissing on the store, they can ask you to shut up or leave. They are not violating your first amendment rights. They are exercising their own rights.

So, yes, I will defend the right of the KKK and the Nazis and the gays and jews and christians and muslims and atheists and every other American citizen to peaceably assemble and share any views they want. We cannot and should not attempt to legislate these groups out of the public square.

It is the protection of our freedoms that makes us unique in the world.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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