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"Hate Speech" is Free Speech

Over the course of the latest generation, a great many political, sociological and linguistic metamorphoses have coalesced to rally young and impressionable minds around bold ideas that elude examination and understanding by the mainstream and those who loyally wave their banners and line the streets. 

Before they even remotely comprehend what they have read, witnessed or encountered, or more appropriately what they have been told to think, they are suddenly involved in an uncompromising movement predicated upon words and statements as bold as their ideas. 

Unfortunately, while the words may appear bold and compelling, the ideas behind them are just about as flimsy as the paper that bears their message. 

Ironically, in the heat of passion — or fit of boredom — which impels the protest, the participants seem to forget that it is that very freedom of speech which enables the protests against it in the first place. 

However, for the average opponent to free speech, the only permissible kind takes the form of that which is agreeable, inoffensive or trivial. 

Beyond this standard, the only kind of tolerable political speech, which conveniently qualifies as something other than “hate speech” in their rulebook, is that which offends the unfashionable opinions, or challenges the unpopular laws, presumably supported only by bigots or out-of-touch members of the so-called "privileged" class. 

Just as with any set of ideas or string of words that makes us laugh, inspires thought, challenges conventional wisdom or elucidates an error of judgment, each iteration of speech inherently risks upsetting someone or disrupting the preceding system. 

In this sense, while the protests against so-called "hate speech" intend to broadly extinguish unpopular expressions, it can serve only to limit the kind of speech that is most meaningful; whether this outcome is secured deliberately or incidentally is immaterial. 

Fortunately for those who enjoy free speech and appreciate it as a precondition to a free society, the United States Constitution plainly protects the institution against its opponents, regardless of their justifications, their conviction or the sincerity of their hurt feelings. 

While people will continue into perpetuity to formulate new reasons to complain about life, other people or what they say, the value of free speech will endure the same, regardless of how others wish to define, restrict or defame it. 

And while this protest certainly isn’t new to the human experience, protestors are always inventing new ways to bring that freedom back into question. 

In the twenty-first century, their trick has been the classification of some expressions as "hate speech," a characterization that appears relatable at first but crumbles under the slightest of disciplined scrutiny. 

Clearly, just because someone is offended by another's comment, that does not qualify the statement as hateful: a fragile ego, a misapprehension or any number of factors could thereby theoretically produce the illusion of "hate speech."

This is a dangerous precedent, as wherever the proverbial line is decidedly drawn on the matter, it can serve only as a launchpad for further curtailments of speech and other liberties in the future, where the laws and their administrators will continue to usurp authority, operating largely free from criticism for the increasing limits placed thereupon. 

Despite the soundest of intentions, laws endure beyond the final breaths of those who breathed life into the provisions; with their passing, so too degrades the harnesses on those powers, where "hate speech" and the like develop into the kind of threats against liberty that even the original protestors and administrators would have condemned.    

By the time that original generation has perished, they have been replaced by another set of eager, impressionable minds who are prepared to be offended by other forms of expression that have yet to be specifically outlawed. 

While those original safeguards against "hate speech" may have operated under vastly different intentions, those intentions fail to carry over into the future, where subsequent generations of politicians are left to wield this weapon against those who threaten their authority. 

Whereas the protestors falsely believe that the people — those who resemble them and their disposition — will reserve the power to determine which speech is allowable, they neglect to acknowledge that it is government and its heavy-handed administrators who capitalize on those powers once they become law.  

This is precisely why America's forefathers specified this freedom without condition, qualification or reservation. 

While we all have our own uniquely personal concepts of the term "hate speech," and we all know of people and comments that we wish we could silence, the freedom to speech is far more important than the convenience of silencing those with whom we disagree.

First, “hate speech” didn’t exist in the English lexicon until roughly a few minutes ago, in the grand scheme of history, when the politically-minded set out to engineer a divisive term to promote ulterior political motives. 

Indeed, the United States government doesn’t even recognize "hate speech," and it has no laws delineating or outlawing it. 

Just as with most political movements, the laymen and foot soldiers are scarcely acquainted with the primary objectives of the tactical political maneuvers, compelled only by whatever faces them in the immediacy. 

In the case of speech, the average opponent to that freedom avails himself of the tools and expedients secured by his sponsors who stand to gain the most through the process and upon its culmination as law. 

Second, in the literal sense, "free speech" covers all speech, whether agreeable or disagreeable, logical or illogical. 

The First Amendment reads, "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech." 

The Amendment does not qualify this freedom with any limits or conditions; it is unequivocal. 

Indeed, Founders Thomas Jefferson and James Madison — the latter of whom drafted the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights in response to political pressure from the civil rights-focused Anti-Federalists — even reinforced their intentions through their Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which rebuked the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts that served to limit false or critical statements about the federal government. 

Through their combined efforts, Jefferson and Madison sought to demonstrate the unconstitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts in order to preserve the First Amendment in all of its glory.

With history as their guide, the two Founders stressed states' rights and strict constitutionalism to ward off the forces that stood to wear down the very fibers which formed and preserved the fabric of freedom in the United States.

As it turns out, the battle against speech is often a proxy for one's discomfort with truth, unpredictability or the struggle for power. 

Nowhere is this more relevant than in the realm of politics, where participants and politicians alike commiserate with one another over their disapproval of certain kinds of opinion, or even inconvenient facts. 

They would like nothing more than to simply eliminate these thoughts from their world.

Short of this, however, they would settle for the alternative scenario in which they limit through law the expression of those undesirable thoughts, whereby they concomitantly discourage the public from critical thought and honest discussion altogether.

With this arrangement, they believe they will finally silence their opposition to prove that they are right. 

Despite their sincerest efforts, they will predictably squash truth in the process of exterminating everything that ails them.

In affording them any such privilege, they will face no incentive to even acknowledge truth, leaving them blind to it as they snuff out every last threat to their peace of mind. 

During colonial times, the English criminal common law of seditious libel made punishable by law all forms of criticism directed at government, notwithstanding any legal defense predicated upon objective truth. 

In 1704, Lord Chief Justice John Holt explained his rationalization for the prohibition of speech: "If people should not be called to account for possessing the people with an ill opinion of the government, no government can subsist, for it is very necessary for all governments that the people should have a good opinion of it."

In essence, speech that is critical of government poses a threat to the power structure that is presently enjoyed by those in or approving of said government. 

Of course, this is where we find a fundamental distinction between England and the United States: whereas the Magna Carta sought a "better ordering of [a] kingdom" around the English Church, the United States Constitution separated between church and state, pursuing a "more perfect union" to "secure the blessings of liberty to [the people of the United States] and [their] posterity."

The Magna Carta also outlined the rights granted by government to the free men of England, whereas the Constitution expressly enumerated the powers of government to deliberately reserve every other power "to the States respectively, or to the people." 

In this capacity, both the United States and the central government made the freedom of speech a central aspect of their respective constitutions. 

For example, the Constitution of the State of Virginia reads, "Any citizen may freely speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects."

Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the State of Missouri reads, "... no law shall be passed impairing the freedom of speech, no matter by what means communicated." The Missouri Constitution continues, "every person shall be free to say, write, or publish, or otherwise communicate whatever he will on any subject." 

Article II, Section 4, of the Constitution of the State of Illinois provides: "Every person may freely speak, write and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty; and in all trials for libel, both civil and criminal, the truth, when published with good motives and for justifiable ends, shall be a sufficient defense."

Across the United States, a common thread between the states has been the indispensable freedom of speech, and even where that freedom faces any limits whatever, there it is met only by an appetite for truth. 

The essentiality of the freedom of speech was even powerfully reiterated in a twentieth-century Supreme Court case.

The Supreme Court and the State of California affirmed the freedom of speech in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins (1980), where the court held that “A state can prohibit the private owner of a shopping center from using state trespass law to exclude peaceful expressive activity in the open areas of the shopping center.” 

The California Constitution even specifies, "A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press." 

President Kennedy even spoke of the First Amendment in his 1961 address, where he exalted the freedom of speech as that which is protected “not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply give the public what it wants, but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.” 

Allow me to echo Kennedy’s final consideration: the freedom of speech is important even where it may sometimes "anger public opinion." 

Were it intended for purposes of agreeable, trivial or humorous applications, the freedom of speech certainly wouldn’t require the backing of law to protect it. 

The First Amendment to the Constitution protects this freedom because of the predictable response to unpopular speech: a reduction of freedom, any limit against speech serves to prevent meaningful discourse and the kind of speech that serves to challenge government and, incidentally, to promote liberty. 

Remember, the Constitution of the United States was written expressly to limit the central government and empower the several states and individual citizens of the Union, as the Founders understood that government exists as the single greatest threat against freedom. 

With that in mind, we cannot rely upon government to correctly decide on matters pertaining to freedom, as government’s record on the subject, wherever it appears or rules on the matter, proves nothing about the nature of free speech; instead, its decisions today and into the future represent the nature of politics and populism. Ultimately, words can no doubt be compelling, but they are not the singular threat. 

Instead, people the world over are threatened by their limited apprehensions of, and reactions to, those words, which seem to inspire a predictable yet broadly-misunderstood emotional response frequently misattributed to speech over interpretation. 

As abolitionist Wendell Philips proclaimed, "He who stifles free discussion, secretly doubts whether what he professes to believe is really true."


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