Hatred under the Freedom of Speech

There is a thin line between an open expression of plain hatred and the expression of opinion. It is safe to assume that every person at some point of his or her life, either witnessed or experienced a bias from bigots based on race, nationality, sex, or other characteristics. People interpret “hate speech” differently; some compare it to the crime; others see it as practicing the First Amendment. Both groups can bring a lot of arguments to support their point of view, and both will be right in their own way. So, at what point the bias becomes a dangerous threat to the wellbeing of people it is directed to? And should hateful speech be protected under the First Amendment if not with acts of violence?

Going extreme on, either of two arguments would definitely cause a backfire. Most dangerous and controversial belief is that school administrations are labeling bigoted personal opinions as “hate crimes” and are implementing censorship in college campuses that would make bigots to become more extreme. This is reflected in the articles of two prominent writers Wendy Kaminer’s “Why We Need to Tolerate Hate” and Greg Lukianoff’s “Twitter, Hate speech, and the Costs of Keeping Quiet”. Both Wendy Kaminer and Greg Lukianoff graduated from a Law School and had articles published in various publications including New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TIME, U.S News & World Report and others. Greg Lukianoff has appeared as guest in few television news programs, he also testified before the U.S Senate and the House of Representatives about free speech issues in college campuses.

Wendy Kaminer’s article “Why We need to Tolerate Hate” was published in The Atlantic Magazine on November 28, 2012. In her article, Kaminer argues that by censoring hate speeches in campuses, the public-school officials deprive the students of their freedom of speech rights protected by the First Amendment. She suggests that as long as the hate speeches are not followed by some criminal acts like vandalism or assault, there should be no censorship of free speech, especially in public schools. To support her idea, the author presents one interesting example of the incident where a female student finds anti-Semitic graffiti on the door of the building she resided at Wheaton College. While the campus police were investigating the incident, students and faculty members ran a campaign to support the diversity in college. She also mentions that by Massachusetts laws assaulting someone or damaging the property with “intent to intimidate” based on race, religion or other characteristics is punishable by the fine and/or imprisonment. Right after that she writes something that gave me the right to believe that the author omits key factors of the incident and goes straight to attacking the policies toward censoring the free speech also known as “hate speech”. She writes the following sentence: “Whether or not the graffiti on the door of the Jewish Life House was intentionally intimidating is a question of fact: but you can guess how it might be resolved” (p.383). Wendy Kaminer simply refers to anti-Semitic graffiti as the expression of freedom of speech and thus should not be punishable. By censoring such expressions school officials would be violating the fundamental First Amendment freedoms. Her argument is that the bad thoughts should not be censored or should not fall under the hate crime category if followed by the act of violence. I strongly disagree with her on this matter. Hate speeches could still be protected under the First Amendment, but promoting it should not be allowed because it could easily turn into acts of violence from both groups. How could she really think that anti-Semitic graffiti is acceptable expression of speech? Where does one draw the line? It is morally unacceptable. She cannot view the censoring hateful speeches as an obstacle to practice the freedom of speech especially in college campuses. She either confuses the verbal assault with the freedom of speech or she is simply a racist, which I believe she is not. I don’t think that censoring hateful speech jeopardizes the practice of free speech. Back in my county when I was a kid, I lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. When I started going to school my classmates would call me a “Jew” not in a good way. They were not practicing their right to freedom of speech. In matter of fact there was no such a term as a “freedom of speech” in Soviet Union. Even though I am not a Jewish, I still felt uncomfortable. I was not threatened or intimidated by them, but I felt the hateful tone in their voices. I agree with Wendy Kaminer only on few points where lately some people pretend to be easily offended with any minor, insignificant or non-related remark at any chance they get. That makes people confused and sometimes angry. It takes away from the importance of the real issues concerning the expressions of the free speech. I think opposing the hateful speech is not preventing the freedom of speech, but is expressing the freedom of speech.

Another article that was published on CNET.com on April 7, 2013 is written by Greg Lukianoff. It’s called “Twitter, Hate Speech, and the Costs of Keeping Quiet”. In his article Greg Lukianoff discusses the similar issues that were mentioned by Wendy Kaminer in her essay. Similarly, he mentions the importance of the freedom of speech in the United States. Contrary to Wendy Kaminer’s aggressively toned article, Lukianoff’s article has an informative tone to it. He explains what consequences we might be facing in the future if social media and American higher education keeps censoring bigoted ideas rather than addressing them. The author suggests that even though the United States protects free speech under the constitution, sixty-three percent of over 400 top colleges maintain codes that violate First Amendment principles. (p.388). That means there is a serious number of hate speech being censored. Greg Lukianoff brings up analogy of addressing the hate speech with banning it and making it illegal. He says: “Forcing hate speech underground by banning it is like taking Xanax for syphilis. You may briefly feel better about horrible disease, but your sickness will only get worse”. (p.390).

The author warns about dangers of such “clamping” on hate speeches. This could cause bigots or people with bad opinions to stay silently in the dark; angry, paranoid about society turning up against those people which could cause even more dangerous situations. Making the hate speeches illegal prevents people from easily identifying bigots around them. Lukiannoff suggest that in order to prevent those kinds of people from joining in like-minded groups or forums, and to avoid far more serious consequences, the society needs to address racism or anti-Semitism on cultural level. I agree with Greg Lukianoff regarding solving the issue culturally. The extreme solutions or decisions sometimes are the wrong ones; whether it’s protecting a freedom of speech or condemning the hateful speech.

There is no simple formula to follow to stop bigots from hating on other people and not to violate First Amendment at the same time. I believe each case should have an individual approach to it. Anybody in this country can express their views in any form, whether it’s an anti-Semitic bumper sticker on the car, or a confederate flag on the lawn, or swastika on their t-shirt. This what makes our country great; it’s a freedom of expression, freedom of speech. Having mutual respect towards each other, being considerate of other people’s culture, valuing people for their character not the color of their skin, would help to solve this problem.

References:

Wendy Kaminer. “Why We Need to Tolerate Hate”. The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, November 28, 2012

Greg Lukianoff, “Twitter, Hate Speech, and the Costs of Keeping Quiet”, Web, April 7, 2013

“Spotlight on Speech Codes 2013: The State of Free Speech on Our Nations Campuses,” (Philadelphia: FIRE, 2013). https://www.thefire.org/pdfs/Spotlight_on_Speech_Codes_2013.pdf?direct

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