So I’m oddly fascinated by the fact that hate speech and freedom of speech are being used synonymously with one another lately. In the last few weeks alone I’ve come across numerous articles online in which people claim to be using their first amendment right to speak freely about their views on any number of topics. What fascinates me about this is the outright confusion that one’s right to speak freely is the same as one’s right to speak words of hate. I’d like to take a moment to analyze these two things and see if we can find some clarity for the sake of those who are inept at making the distinction between two very simple concepts:
“…A communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women.”
FREEDOM OF SPEECH:
“The right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction…The Constitution allows some restrictions on speech under certain circumstances… During the two centuries since the adoption of the First Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that some types of speech or expression may be regulated. At the same time, the Court has granted protection to some areas of expression that the Framers clearly had not contemplated.”
It’s one thing for a person to openly declare his or her views on a particular topic in either written or verbal form, but an entirely different thing to communicate a stance on something in a way that is “likely to provoke violence.” When it comes to freedom of speech there is a clear line between sharing thoughts and spreading the intent to do or incite harm upon other individuals based on nothing more than differences in race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
I have absolutely no problem with someone standing on a corner holding up a sign in protest to my human rights; that person is afforded by the constitution the right to do so as long as it does not bring direct harm to any individuals. When that person, however, decides to put words like “death to fags” on that sign and threaten my well-being or the well-being of those like me, I have a serious problem with that. Not only do those words offend me, but we have crossed the line from freedom of speech to blatant hate speech. We have reached a point where someone is not only sharing a view, but promoting the act of bringing harm upon a group because of its differences.
Many people would argue that words like that are simply words and cannot be taken as a declaration of violence. I in turn respond with one very simple question: how do I know that? There is absolutely no way for me to know that those words do not directly correlate to someone’s plan to commit an act of violence against me or someone else associated with me. Not only do I have to worry about the dangers of everyday life, but now I have to worry about my sexuality affecting my safety as well.
We have all been witness to terrible acts taking place over much less and to say that homosexuals should “die” or “burn” is, in my mind, a very direct way of conveying a desire for violence. If there is anything that I have learned in my nearly twenty-four years on this planet, it’s that when it comes to human nature anything is possible; anyone is capable of depraved acts and at this point I would sadly not be surprised by anything anymore.
With that being said, I think it is clear to those of us who are not swayed by fear and ignorance that there is a distinct difference between a first amendment right to freedom of speech and the hate speech that it is often confused with. One of the greatest freedoms that we have as Americans is the right to speak our minds about topics that foreign governments may deem as unacceptable and/or punishable offenses.
We have to keep in mind, though, that even freedom of speech has its limits; it has lines that should not be crossed for the mere fact that once crossed we have left the zone of free speech and entered into something else entirely. A person’s right to speak freely begins to infringe upon my right to walk down the street without fear for my life. When we speak words of hate, we’re not just sharing our views on a topic, but also our desire for violence against those who are different; those who are simply playing the hands they were dealt in this game of life.
At this point I can do nothing more than ask those who choose to share their views to know the difference between sharing a thought and promoting violence. Hate speech and free speech are not the same thing. The sooner we all understand that, the better off we’ll be.
Until next time…stay classy.
– C.M. Berry
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