What is “Hate Speech?” Here is one definition from Wikipedia:
In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. The law may identify a protected individual or a protected group by disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, nationality, religion, race, sexual orientation, or other characteristic. In some countries, a victim of hate speech may seek redress under civil law, criminal law, or both.[i]
Notice how vague the definition is. It covers anything that “may incite violence” or “disparages or intimidates” someone. Does that mean all of the “dumb blonde” jokes of years past were “hate speech” because they disparaged blondes? Should all lawyer jokes be illegal because they may intimidate faint-hearted attorneys?
Who condemns hate speech? We now hear people denouncing those who disagree with them as being perpetrators of “hate speech.” Their intent is clear—to silence such opposition. Do not misunderstand this—their intent is to silence free speech. They do not want to have a debate over the propriety of their conduct or beliefs. They want to live in a world free from condemnation, so that they can continue to pretend their actions are beyond condemnation. They are particularly offended when opposition is based on religious beliefs. They want not only to limit freedom of speech, but also freedom of religion.
The First Amendment declares: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech . . . .” Admittedly there are some very narrowly and clearly defined areas of speech that are prohibited despite the Constitution. One is speech that incites a riot because it creates a clear and present danger to the property or person of others.[ii] Another is a prohibition against “fighting words.” [iii] Hopefully above and beyond these legal limits on speech, we will all try to be civil in our communications and determined in defending the civil rights of everyone. But there are some who want to go far beyond these narrow exceptions by condemning any communication they find offensive as “hate speech.” They want to be the Commissars of Speech—deciding who can say what about whom by deciding what is acceptable free speech and what is “disparaging or intimidating” “hate speech.” Because the definition of “hate speech” is so vague, it gives them broad power to silence what they don’t want to hear.
How essential is free speech even if some find it hateful? One example from U.S. history is enough to prove how essential free speech is—especially the propagation of religiously based ideas in forming public opinion. That example is the abolition of slavery. “Historian James Stewart (1976) explains the abolitionists’ deep beliefs: ‘All people were equal in God’s sight; the souls of black folks were as valuable as those of whites; for one of God’s children to enslave another was a violation of the Higher Law, even if it was sanctioned by the Constitution’.”[iv] Abolition and the freedom of Blacks began as a religious based belief. What if anti-slavery speech had been prohibited as “hate speech” because it condemned slave holders and slave holding? Certainly Uncle Tom’s Cabin was intended to show slave owners in the worst possible light. Certainly the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and its call to “make men free” was offensive to slave owners. Would the country be better off if the book and hymn had been banned because they “disparaged” one group? The religion-based ideals of the abolitionist did lead to violence—both the depredations of John Brown and ultimately the Civil War. But even in this most extreme of cases, would anyone prefer we still have slavery—protected by slave owners’ opposition to the “hate speech” of abolitionsits—over the ultimate freedom of Blacks arising from free speech and free religion?
Should I seek legal protection from disparaging remarks about my beliefs or lifestyle by condemning my condemners as being perpetrators of “hate speech?” If I am legally protected in my beliefs and lifestyle, why should I care what others think of them? Certainly Maoists and Marxists would find my religious and political views appalling. That doesn’t bother me in the least, just so long as they don’t seek to force me to obey their views. It is likely that members of some religions expect that I will spend eternity in hell because I am not a devotee of their particular doctrines. That might bother me if I believed their doctrines, but I don’t. They can preach their religion as much as they want, just so I can also preach mine. Why then do some seem so bothered when their actions, though legal, are condemned by others? Why do they try so hard to silence what they denounce as “hate speech?” Is it because, deep down, they really believe such condemnation is true and are stung by it? Can they only live with themselves by silencing opposition, not by simply disregarding it?
“Hate Speech” is a euphemism for forbidding free speech. Don’t be deceived by the label. You have a right to free speech, particularly religiously based free speech, and a duty to protect it. Hurrah for the First Amendment!