By Teagan Fair | United States
The First Amendment, naturally, comes first in the Bill of Rights. As such, it is the most important right. It has become an emblem of American society since our founders wrote it into law. Founder and hero George Washington once said the following on free speech:
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
He was absolutely right. He, along with the other founders of this country, and any man or woman that values liberty, knew that there is simply no moral reason to prohibit free speech, even hate speech.
Allow me to ask an interesting hypothetical: If we can limit speech, then where exactly does one draw the line? The Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment does not safeguard “advocacy of the use of force” if it is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action,” and is “likely to incite or produce such action”. So, if you wish to draw the line there, it already exists. This makes sense and is just, as we must take action against serious threats. However, there should be no more limitations on free speech.
Hate Speech is Free Speech
Anything else, including hate speech, is simply one group of people enforcing values onto others. Ultimately, there is nothing that makes one set of values more or less important than others. This strikes a second question: whose values become proper, and whose become hate speech?
Let’s take a blatantly brazen and noxious group as an example: the Nazis. Many people may support a prohibition on the hate speech of Nazis. This is not morally correct. Sure, I hate Nazis as much as the next guy. Almost all can agree that Nazism is an ideology of hatred. However, provided that they are not advocating for direct and violent action, the Consitution still guards their rights.
Though they are morally wrong in intent, it is just as wrong to prohibit them from speaking. This goes for any ideology, on any side of the political spectrum. No matter how politically radical you may be, you have the same rights to free speech as anyone else. As said by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Hate speech, without a doubt, is free speech.
Violence and Hate Speech
Many people claim that hate speech is either violent itself or can provoke violence. Yet, hurt feelings do not mean that something is violent. On a moral level, it may be practical and/or moral to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. However, it is truly horrendous to ask the government to steal someone’s money or lock them away for espousing an opinion you do not like. This is no different than the government arresting an innocent man. Using violence itself, the state is enforcing the values of one person onto another. There is no other way to put it: this is a form of oppression, by the government and by fellow citizens. If the speech incites violence, it is another story. But there is a clear difference between a brash insult and a call to violence.
Moreover, it is worth noting that these rights apply universally. Age, gender, race, and creed, among other things, cannot take away free speech. The phrase, “You don’t get free speech until you’re an adult” is fairly common. Surprisingly, many children actually repeat it. This is completely untrue. As I noted previously, in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines that the First Amendment does apply to public school students, in a 7-2 majority. This applies to charter schools as well, as they act as public organizations.
The right to free speech is arguably one of the most important ones. Speaking is something that we do every day. To narrow it down, speaking about controversial topics is also quite regular. The government already influences or controls your business, your car, your money, your devices, your weaponry, and countless other rights. If the State controls our right to something as basic as free speech, what kind of society do we live in? Certainly, that would not be one that is civil or desirable.
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