The Freedom to Hate

Over the years, the First Amendment has become a significant figure of controversy, As many seek to define just what this Amendment protects.

America the great, America the free, as a country, we have always prided ourselves on our civil liberties granted by the constitution. These liberties are one of the many reasons that America stands as a global superpower today, attempting to demonstrate the benefits of a democratic nation. Among the freedoms given to the people of America is the freedom of speech, allowing anyone to say whatever they wish without the fear of being persecuted or oppressed. Many people believe that you can’t go wrong with freedom, as the more freedom you have the better, right? However, the situation exists in the fact that freedom gives power, and power can be misused. Hate speech is a common example of the misuse of the power given by the 1st Amendment. After the inauguration of President Donald Trump, I witnessed countless new stations reporting riots and fights breaking out between those who opposed the President, and those who supported him. I continued to look into this issue, where the The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 867 cases of hateful harassment and intimidation merely 10 days after the President’s election. According to SPLC President Richard Cohen “They’ve been everywhere — in schools, in places of business like Walmart, on the street,”. These cases are demonstrated to be widespread, and as a result many people have come to feel the antagonization of those who use hate speech, though because of the 1st Amendment, the perpetrators are protected. Many people argue that these acts need to stop and that hate speech needs to end. However, if hate speech were to be banned like this, what would stop other forms of speech being censored as well? Hate speech is the belief of those expressing it, and as a result, should not be oppressed, as it would be the same as oppressing the people themselves.

In order to stop the spread of hate speech, educational institutions such as Harvard have banned the use of hate speech; however the students on campus protest this ban, saying that it violates their natural rights and the 1st Amendment. While the intentions of the Harvard board of education are understandable, as they aim to protect the wellbeing of their students, it is their way of protecting them that is misguided. Hate speech, however vile it may be, is still a product of free speech, a liberty given to the people. Harvard’s banning of hate speech is not solving the problem, just putting it under wraps and ignoring it, while simultaneously taking away other’s free speech. This act in itself is a clear violation of the 1st Amendment, regardless of Harvard’s purpose in creating a “speech code” (Lily Herman) for the students. According to the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, “this freedom can backfire and end up punishing people not for their ideas but for their identities when hate speech comes into play” (Harvard Crimson). However, when faced with hate speech, the perpetrators have the right to defend themselves with their own words. Though when hate speech is banned, those that use it cannot fight back, and as a result their identities are being oppressed, without the slightest way to defend themselves.

Another one of the reason to protect hate speech under the first amendment should be the ambiguity of the term “hate speech”. According to Eugene Volokh, an author and preacher for the freedom of speech and religion, “U.S. law has just never had occasion to define “hate speech” — any more than it has had occasion to define rudeness, evil ideas, unpatriotic speech, or any other kind of speech that people might condemn but that does not constitute a legally relevant category.” The reasoning here is that hate speech is a term that categorizes all kinds of offensive speech on varying levels of seriousness. If the 1st Amendment were to be revised in order to say that hate speech was an exception, then we would have to go through the process of what we believe hate speech is. As a result, the freedom of speech that belonged to others would be limited by the beliefs of another party, leading to what would only be known as a severe compromise of America’s core values, as we change the meaning of the freedom of speech based on the whims of others.

When it boils down to it, the main issue that others have with hate speech is that it is harming to them and another party, and as a result they want it banned. However, could this not be the same thing as wanted any hateful ideas to be oppressed? This would also allow the government to regulate what types of hate speech would fall into the category of hate speech, as according to Nahmod Law, an educator on legal rights, the “government may have its own political agenda in regulating hate speech — which groups would be protected against hate speech and which not?”. The way to defend against hate speech should be with the speech of others. While still harmful, hate speech sparks discussion and controversy. These discussions and debates are what bring to light the problems that we have in our current society, the problems that lead to hate speech. A law against hate speech would simply be hiding these problems, allowing them to fester and grow until they can no longer be solved with mere words and compromise. As a result, hate speech, no matter how harmful it may be cannot be banned if we wish for our society to grow.

Recent incidents, such as the protest that turned violent at UC Berkeley on February 2nd, have brought this issue forward and people need to understand why it matters. Despite the controversy behind it, hate speech is still a part of our society and its use is still valid under the protection from the 1st Amendment. People who argue against hate speech believe that in doing so, they will protect themselves. Yet they fail to see that at the same time, they are taking away the rights of others. Instead of trying to fight the problem by covering it up, if people truly want to end hate speech they need to cut off the problem at its source. Hate speech originates from context, a background leading to the hate being expressed. The byproduct of this background is hate speech, not caused by the 1st Amendment but by the people themselves. Even if the 1st Amendment would be changed, it would not stop the hate, only the speech. If hate speech can truly be stopped, it can only be done through the exchange of words, and the understanding of others. While we can never truly know what it is like to live in another’s shoes, it cannot stop us from trying, and maybe, just maybe, if we can get through to those who have all this hate, we can destroy hate speech at its source.