As of this writing, recent news is of a gathering of neo-Nazis and other dead-enders in Charlottesville, VA which turned deadly when one serious loser ran his car into the crowd, wounding like 17 and killing one. President Trump had a lukewarm response. As this blog shows, there are some deeply significant divisions in America, and it appears as though there is a leadership vacuum at the top. When the POTUS doesn’t unilaterally denounce white supremacist hate and violence, and then David Duke praises him for that, it feels like we are experiencing some of the moral and social and political earthquakes that shook Rome when it was transmuting into a totalitarian state. What are some of the considerations when thinking about free speech, liberty, and the First Amendment – and when does it morph into hatred, racism, xenophobia, and “hate speech”? What do wise persons have to say on this issue? What quotations can be brought to the table regarding free speech? Read on.
Justice Samuel Alito addresses this issue: “[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.” He is saying that the majority of the SCOTUS agrees that one can say hateful things and it still gets protection under the First Amendment. As you can see from this asshole’s speech, one has a right to say all manner of offensive stuff in the U.S. – for better or worse. Here is a lower-grade discussion of censorship in comedy and the like with veteran crap-talkers, Bill Maher and Dennis Miller. You may recall the big deal made about 2 Live Crew and other obscene lyrics in the 1980s.
So, right-wing jerkoffs on college campuses is one thing; as much shit as comes out of Anne Coulter’s mouth, she isn’t going to go as far as neo-Nazis will. The ideas in the minds of the Nazis is more than just selling books and getting Twitter followers; they are vitriolic, prejudiced, angry, violent people – by and large. I tend to come down on the argument along these lines: comedy and satire and editorializing and such deserves protection – as certainly does criticism of any American or American institution. It begins to change, though, when racism and venom seek cover from our glorious Bill of Rights. As I understand it, unless you are directly advocating violence, you have protection in the U.S. Neo-Nazis and the KKK and such are always straddling the line, however. I do like to live in a society where the right to free speech is relatively protected. It prevents government overreach. We do, however, have a long history of racism and ethnic/religious strife in this country. Generally, you can say what you want, though. I tend to support the ACLU, and here is an opinion by the group about hate speech.
This is not the case in Germany, for example. As this article shows, Germany does not mess around when it comes to hate. And perhaps that is fair, given their vicious racist history and the current immigration/assimilation issues that plague it and other European countries. Here, free speech is broken out by country. I don’t think Germany is much more racist than the U.S. – and on the whole, frankly, it probably doesn’t have a significantly worse history when it comes to the majority stepping on the rights of the minority. Significantly. We have quite a bit to be embarrassed about in this country. For example, what is the point in protecting the right of the Indian in early America to say what he or she wants when he or she is being carted off to a reservation or killed or shunted to the lowest social class status possible (in modern America, American Indians are uniquely bad off). I welcome you to listen to this interview I had with Amanda Phillips about libertarianism and Mark Potok about free speech vs. hate speech – Germany vs. the U.S. came up specifically.
An interesting case in point is that of confederate monuments. I live outside Charleston, SC and so it is the Deep South. We have various monuments here from the confederate flag to statues of “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman to John C. Calhoun and the like. There has been a movement of gathering steam to take them down. I for one did feel good about the removal of the confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds. I do see that issue both ways, though. On the one hand, I see that it is history and is very embedded in the fabric of the Lowcountry. It would be objectionable to begin to remove all manner of antebellum symbols, architecture, and written history. However, in Berlin, a statue to Himmler or the Nazi flag is not tolerated. That also feels right to me. Taken to the extreme, one group is deciding which homogenous set of symbols represent modern society well and then cleansing the extraneous things. That’s obviously not well-thought-out. However, the other side of the coin is that America is currently not a fair or egalitarian or rich melting pot – or any of the other aspirational, propagandistic imagery – and so I would have to imagine what it would be like to be an African American walking around seeing a statue of that relatively odious man, Tillman. It’s a kind of soft bigotry or majority-group-harassment to have to continue to be subjected to –let’s face it – what was a racist, hegemonic, traitorous movement that failed. In principle, I don’t think that sounds like a kind of ideology that we should be giving anything but short shrift to. We want to denigrate it because it was relatively without merit. I’m sorry if many in the South don’t appreciate that, but I’m not besmirching Fritos or sweet tea or banjos or Harper Lee or Thomas Jefferson or the shag or cornhole or Porgy and Bess – those are fine and innocuous Southern tradition that should indeed be honored. Racism – not so much.
I will now present quotes about free speech and freedom of expression and liberty and so on. As usual, my familiar refrain is that the idea of freedom has to be balanced by a heaping portion of responsibility. Perhaps – perhaps – white supremacists have the right to yell “Go back to Africa, niggers!” – but that is only a reflection of the ignorance alive and well in this country if as a society we don’t take swift counteraction to try to raise the level of education and dialogue in this country. After all, if a major effort is not underway to relieve those poor and struggling-middle-class lost souls, isn’t America just protecting the rights of its disenfranchised and woefully ignorant citizens to yell “Go back to Africa, nigger!” What kind of spiritually and educationally and intellectually destitute country is that? There is more to aspire to that being able to speak freely, I say. Even a country of chimpanzees can make vocal utterances. Only a society that prizes wisdom and the development of its people can rise beyond such minimal goals. I do get that we don’t want one individual or one group of benighted lawmakers to decide what is fair and what isn’t, but I don’t think we want to tolerate intolerance, either. It might be a fine balance.
So long as we prevent Communists from being heard, we produce the impression that they must have a very strong case. Free speech used to be advocated on the ground that free discussion would lead to the victory of the better opinion. This belief is being lost under the influence of fear. ~ Bertrand Russell
Without free speech no search for truth is possible… no discovery of truth is useful. Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial slays the life of the people.
The state has police powers, and they’re always balancing the First Amendment rights against the police powers of the state. The First Amendment doesn’t say that your right to free speech should be balanced against anything. But the Supreme Court has decided, and it’s a very handy thing, that it should be balanced against the police powers of the state, just as on a national level it’s balanced against national security interests.
Whether we like it or not, hate speech is free speech. Oddly, we need to guard this right because if we give the elite one inch, they will take a mile. ~ Kelli Hernandez
Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. Do you believe in free speech? Then speak freely. Do you love the truth? Then tell it. Do you believe in an open society? Then act in the open. Do you believe in a decent and humane society? Then behave decently and humanely.
One view, common in liberal democracies, says unequivocally that free speech must never be suppressed by law. The only acceptable response to statements you object to for one reason or another is persuasion or exhortation or rejoinder, but never judicial force. There is an absolute and inalienable right to freedom of expression, which must never be compromised.
In my opinion, hate speech should NEVER be protected under any circumstances. I would also love to see a movement in our country where Enemy Flags are banned and the sale, purchase or display can result in jail time. And those flying enemy flags would forfeit their right to be protected under our Constitution. You want to fly a Nazi flag? Cool, you’ll be treated as a Nazi and be stripped of your constitutional rights. ~ Aaron Matthew
In the United States, a hysterical fear of communism led to the suppression of free speech: jailing of dissidents, inquisition by congressional committees, surveillance of ordinary citizens by the FBI—a phenomenon which came to be known as McCarthyism. But there were Americans who insisted on speaking their minds, and who kept alive the idea of democracy.
Restriction on free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.
Freedom of speech does not grant someone freedom from the repercussions of that speech. You can ‘say’ whatever you want, but if you say something stupid enough, you’re not immune to dealing with the consequences, no matter how those consequences manifest themselves. ~ Aleksander Swope
The Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 were modeled loosely on the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and were designed to curb criticism of the government which might interfere with the war effort. Charges brought under these laws provided the occasion for the first test of the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment.