Calls for new laws banning free speech are on the rise as bias-based physical violence, and verbal hostilities accompany civil unrest erupting from coast-to-coast in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in police custody.
The Founders considered free speech important enough of a right they enshrined it in the First Amendment. However, no rights are absolute, and the Supreme Court has heard numerous cases regarding restrictions on hate speech.
For example, the Court protected speech by Ku Klux Klan members in 1969, holding that a state cannot forbid hateful speech unless it is “directed” towards inciting “imminent lawless action.
Then, in 1992, the Court upheld white teenagers’ right to burn a cross in the yard of an African-American family. Most recently, the Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed the First Amendment protected hate speech in 2017.
Nevertheless, the subject of regulating hate speech continues to arise to this day, perhaps particularly nowadays as Democratic-led cities find themselves increasingly the target of violent protests, rioting, and looting.
Why We Should Allow Hate Speech
Justice William Douglas, the longest-serving Supreme Court Justice in history, delivered a robust defense of the right to free speech in a 1953 address.
Entitled “The One Un-American Act,” his speech warned, “the most dangerous of all subversions” was free speech restriction. Continuing, he called it “the one un-American act” that could “defeat” the nation.
The most compelling argument for allowing hate speech is that outlawing it could open the door to other government restrictions. For instance, what if the government declared that Black Lives Matter protests were unprotected hate speech directed towards whites? What would stop them from declaring other kinds of speech unlawful?
What would you think if you were no longer allowed to speak out in public against abortion or gay marriage? At its core, outlawing hate speech is a form of censorship, and what’s to stop it from careening out of control?
Think of it as a kind of Pandora’s Box. Once you open speech up for restrictions, you will never lock those rights down again.
The best defense to hate speech isn’t opening the door to bigger government, to the state telling you what you can say or think.
The best way to push back against hate speech is by speaking out and denouncing it using your protected right to free speech.
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