This week’s edition of the independent UGA newspaper, The Red & Black, ran an article entitled “Hate Speech Should Not Be Protected.” It’s a well written article, but I couldn’t disagree more strongly. You can use the link above to check it out, but in summary the author argues that speech is a physical action, and hate speech hurts others by damaging their self-esteem, thus infringing on their rights. The article led to a long string of comments in the section succeeding the article. Most comments were very negative towards author’s argument, which is encouraging, but one in particular stood out to the point that I thought it was worth sharing with you.
Comment by: Heath2012
Although I am by no means praising America’s far right, I have found challenge to the integrity and scope of the first amendment on grounds of semantics and political correctness to chiefly be localized in America’s far left. Of course you can find examples on the right of conservatives trouncing on the first amendment when it suits their causes, (such as the protesting of Muslim’s right to forms of public expression or even protesting the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to protest at soldier’s funerals). Nevertheless the Left’s protest seems to be more focused on semantics and subjective meanings. This is particularly scary in today’s youth who have been conditioned to attach perceived underlying meaning and beliefs to whomever is speaking based on their choice of words, regardless of context and situation.
For instance, someone who uses a racial slur is not guaranteed to be a racist, and its wrong to automatically assume that that person is a racist based on a word they used. It may be that that person is simply ignorant of the word’s meaning, and did not mean to be hurtful. The author actually wants to ban hate speech. Since the author defines hate speech to be any speech that disparages a person based on social characteristics such as race, class, religion, gender or sexual orientation, it is not a stretch to think that you could punish someone regardless of context or situation. If I accidentally call someone a “midget” because I do not know it is harmful to little people, should I be punished if I meant no harm? What if my tax accountant calls me “lower middle class” in trying to explain an investment strategy, and it hurts my feelings when he in fact meant no harm? Ultimately what words hurt someone is completely subjective, and to try and outlaw speech based upon the subjective response of respondents is un-American and ridiculous. I would liken it to outlawing books because of the beliefs it may lead the reader to adopt. Would you outlaw the Communist Manifesto because whoever reads it may adopt Communism? Of course not, the idea is ridiculous and un-American.
Of course some forms of free speech have been ruled to be not protected in American history, but what the other misses is that all of these forms of unprotected speech manifest objective harm that must be demonstrated in the forms of punitive damages to the harmed party. These forms of speech such are
False advertisements – misleads consumers and results in misallocated resources
Fraud – deceives people out of their property or right to freedom which is protected in constitution
Libel – devalues a person’s reputation leading to loss of respect and financial gain
Slander – same as libel
Perjury – same as fraud
Plagiarism – steals the intellectual property of one party which is protected by the constitution
Insider trading – same as fraud
Copyright infringement – same as plagiarism
To try and throw hate speech into that category is ridiculous because it relies on a subjective response of the offended party. All the above forms of outlawed speech show objective punitive actions to the offended party. When someone says something hurtful through hate speech, it does not manifest damages until the offended party chooses to allow it to damage him or herself. Once I went to a bar and was shot down and disparaged by a forthright girl for not being rich enough. That certainly was hate speech on her part by the author’s definition because class is a social characteristic. However, I did not let it bother me, and moved on with my life. The difference between the author of this article and me is that he believes that we should focus on outlawing the girl’s right to tell me her opinion, while my belief is that we should encourage truth in personal expression and for offended party’s to not rely on the words of others to shape their self worth.
Do you blame Ice-T if a kid goes and kills a cop after hearing “Cop Killer”? No, you blame the kid, his family, and the community that failed him into being influenced so easily by such a foul message. Likewise, I find it hard to blame teen A for teen B’s suicide because Teen A called Teen B a homophobic slur.
Everyone has a right to free expression whether they are for world peace, green causes, neo-nazism, paganism, communism, or the flat Earth society. The focus should be on shaping the response of people to negative messages and turning away the recent trend of semantic sensitivity.