As a writer… I’m always vexed when the issue of Freedom of Speech comes up.
There has been a lot of talk lately about protected speech vs. unprotected speech, as well as when physical violence is acceptable and when it isn’t. I’d like to try to tackle this without getting into a massive political diatribe, because that frankly helps no one.
Now often times, I hear people defending the free speech of people like Neo Nazis, the KKK, White Supremecists, 3rd Wave Feminists, Anarcho-Communists, and BLMs, among other groups that are either hate groups or people of questionable morals. The thing that really irks me is that there are people out there who see fit to shut these people down either by violence, fear, ruining their careers, or simply silencing them on social media.
The problem is that when someone tries to speak up and say ‘well wait a minute, these people are disgusting and horrible, but they’re not attempting to incite, they’re saying what they believe. They have every right to do that!’ They are immediately lumped in with said groups, accused of defending them and their position.
Defending someone’s position is when you try to justify the remarks they make. It is coming up with facts and arguments that support their cause. That is not what these people do. These people do not come up with any defense of hate or intolerance, in point of fact they are fighting against it. They are literally saying, “We don’t agree with their position, but you trying to shut them down through violence or intimidation, you are putting yourselves on their level.”
That is not the same thing, not by a long shot.
I can’t speak for Europe or other countries, but in the United States, yes hate speech is protected speech. Anything that does not incite a person to violence and does not infringe on another person’s rights, is PROTECTED under the First Amendment. People have the right to voice their opinion and their ideas free of prosecution and free of being attacked.
The First Amendment and the right to freedom of speech is arguably the most important right we have. It is not only a tool against tyranny, it is also an effective weapon against hate.
A recent poll in California shows that most of its left leaning populace wants to restrict free speech.
Jim, you’re being disingenuous! They just want to restrict it for White Supremacists!
I’m actually not being disingenuous and I left that out intentionally. You see… the full title reads as follows;
Poll: Most California Democrats want to restrict free speech from white nationalists
The ‘for white nationalists’ part is a qualifying statement…
a person or team that qualifies for a competition or its final rounds.
“he is now 14 and trying to become the youngest qualifier for a PGA Tour event”
a word or phrase, especially an adjective, used to attribute a quality to another word, especially a noun.
In other words any qualifier could apply, thus without it, the headline still rings true. You are restricting freedom of speech.
The issue here is who decides what is hate speech and what isn’t?
People like this:
You might as well tear up the constitution right now. Also, who decides which people are white nationalists? Who decides who among the population are Nazis? Who decides who are communists or feminists?
Right now, there are large group of people indiscriminately attacking people who don’t agree with their narrow view and label them all across the board as Nazis. Are they to make that decision?
Case in point, in a modern society where context is so important, you can’t govern what speech is acceptable anymore than we already have. Speech that will incite violence and get someone physically hurt is the limit to what you can prosecute. Any more than that and you’re guaranteed to wrongly infringe on someone’s rights.
This isn’t a scholarly quote, but the writers of Star Trek TNG were absolutely correct when they coined the phrase;
“With the first link, the chain is forged, for speech censored, first thought forbidden, first freedom denied, binds us all irrevocably. Those words were uttered as wisdom and warning. Anytime a man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged.”
The Supreme Court has been very clear on this legally. For the right to speak, and the right to hold ideas to have any meaning, we cannot discriminate based on content or on viewpoint, because if we do, any speech or any idea is not beyond the chopping block.
If you believe in the tenants of Free Speech, then you believe that they must apply unilaterally and cannot be selectively revoked, because then its no longer freedom of speech at all. If we cannot hold up the one core value of the first amendment, then it may as well be scrapped.
So if we damage ourselves by trying to ban hate speech, how do we combat it?
The same way you combat anything else. With other ideas. I hate using this example, but let’s consider for a minute… what would have happened in Charlottesville had counter-protesters and ANTIFA not shown up? Well what’s happened at past KKK and White Supremacy rallies? Usually 2-3 hunderd people would show up, spout their nonsense and bile, and disappear within a few hours. They would be quickly forgotten and that would be the end of them.
This did not happen…
By championing attacking people based on their personal beliefs, by trying to legally or physically silence them, you are giving them what they want. You are turning them into martyrs, and making the additional mistake of lumping anyone who questions your methods in with them, you are swelling their ranks. How? Simple… there are people out there who lean the same way they do. They’re on the same side of the spectrum, but not quite at the extreme. Then they see what you’re doing and what you believe… well that’s not good, not at all. So in some of the more teetering cases, they’re going to lock hands with those hateful people because in their mind, YOU ARE THE GREATER EVIL!
I don’t know that I’d agree with that, but at the very least, you’re just as bad. These people show intolerance for other people based on a race, ethnicity, or gender. You are showing intolerance for ideas you don’t agree with.
As I said above, the best way to combat bad ideas is with good ideas. If you want to counter protest, then fine, great. Go to one of these rallies or protests. Go up to one of the people you don’t agree with and actually talk to them. Understand why they think the way they do, get some context and understanding. Once you have that, you can better challenge their world-view and understanding because you understand it a little better.
This is how the First Amendment works and why it has worked so well. In the United States, hate movements have been reduced to a few hundred people per event. There’s a reason why those numbers have begun to swell… because groups that attack them, essentially give up the moral high ground and reduce themselves to these people’s level. Thus, you are proving their point.
Allow me the luxury of an example…
I once sat down and had a conversation with someone who was against the removal of the Confederate Flag, against the removal of the statues, Robert E. Lee was a good man who should be honored, and professed that the Civil War was not about slavery.
When I asked her why she felt the way she did, she very eloquently justified each of her points…
- The Confederate Flag wasn’t a national flag. It was a military banner, rejected as the national flag by the Confederate Government. It’s use today wasn’t meant to spread hate, but to honor those soldiers who had fallen in battle.
- The statues shouldn’t be removed for the same reason. These people fought for their land. Just because the reason for raising succession may have been slavery, but not everyone in the South owned slaves and may who didn’t, viewed what was going on in Washington as an attack on their sovereignty.
- Robert E Lee was part of the U.S. military before the war. He opposed succession, but when it was democratically decided on, he viewed it as his duty to defend the people of his state. Back then before social media and nation-wide events, people were more loyal to their locality than they were a national government.
I had to admit I was surprised. There was nothing hateful about what she was saying and, while I don’t agree with a lot of her points, I understood better. I responded by letting her know that I didn’t agree. Most of the statues should be removed because they were put up during the Jim Crow era in an effort to disenfranchise former slaves. Honoring one’s history is one thing, weaponizing it is something else all together and should not be tolerated.
I also noted that Robert E. Lee didn’t want any monuments to himself. This was documented. I couldn’t comment on her points about succession. I’m not a Southerner, nor did I live back the, so I can’t comment on the validity of her belief of why people fought in the war. I do know that there is quite a bit of documentation out there to suggest that people were far more loyal to their localities than to the nation as a whole, but I’ll leave that for someone with a little more scholarship on the matter to dissect. The Civil War was never an era I was particularly interested in.
She actually didn’t know about the Jim Crow era history of those statues and conceded my point. I don’t know if I changed her mind or not, but we had a good discussion and walked away with a better understanding of why we both believed what we did. No fists, no angered words, no nothing like that.
That is how you combat ideas!
NO WAY! I am not sitting down with some hateful bigot! They’re not worth my time and you cannot change people like that!
Well… that’s unfortunate… because that’s the only way you learn and grow. By dismissing these people, you’re not only doing a disservice to them, but to yourself as well. You can’t fight an ideology or belief if you’re not willing to engage with it. You can’t defeat a bad idea by ignoring it, and you can’t stop an opponent by banning them.
To quote Nelson Mandela;
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Defending a group’s right to share their thoughts and ideas, regardless of the content, does not equate to agreeing with said thoughts or ideas.
This is a simple concept that has been lost in recent years.
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