Free Speech and Hate Speech and The First Amendment, Oh My!

Lots of arguments are going around about the First Amendment. While most people don’t generally agree with it, they will still assert that white supremacists & neo-nazis have as much of a right to the First Amendment protections as everyone else. But I’m thinking hate speech from groups like the KKK should not be protected under the category of free speech. How does that make sense in 2017? After the Charlottesville tragedy? Ultimately though, it’s the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.

Currently, the First Amendment names the following as being not protected, or beyond the scope of what’s considered “free speech:” obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, and true threats (meaning basically threats or insults made face-to-face, to a specific person, that are used for the provable purpose of starting a fight, violent act, or illegal conduct, within the very immediate future). While this language sounds specific, it’s actually very subjective. But basically, what it all comes down to is that violence has to occur in order to make free speech protection become unprotected speech.

We need to change that. Workplaces don’t allow such targeted abuse. That would foster a hostile working environment. If that rule is good enough for work environments, why isn’t it good enough for public spaces where many diverse people are out and about on a daily basis? I mean, the First Amendment is literally called an amendment, so undoubtedly it should be changeable.

And I definitely hear all the counter-arguments that will call the regulation of hate speech a “slippery slope.” But that shouldn’t be the case if it’s well-defined. An update to the First Amendment should reflect what we’ve learned from history, and how often hate speech begets violence and even unnecessary loss of life. And that brand of hate speech will continue to exist as long as it can be legally justified, or more importantly, as long as it’s given a platform and a space to exist, and a POTUS stamp of approval.

I’m certainly not the first to suggest it, but I will put my full support behind the fact that The First Amendment should be updated to remove from protected speech specifically these things: public displays of hate that are based on race, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender (including gender identity, and gender expression). In the wake of recent events, including Charlottesville, it’s at least worth debating, isn’t it?


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