To Protect Freedom of Speech, Limit It

Nathan Amundson

What does every developed country except the United States possess? Laws that prohibit discrimination in speech on account of race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, marital status, family status, and disability. These laws, which prohibit hate speech and advocacy for discriminatory ideals are a necessary part of any developed country, as we have no place for hate speech within a modern society.

Some may say that such ideas as advocating for genocide or making remarks about those of other races is protected under the umbrella of the first amendment, which guarantees freedoms of speech, the press, and of belief. However, as the Supreme Court of the United States has frequently found, in such cases as Brandenburg v. Ohio, that the government may limit the free speech rights of individuals only in order to prevent imminent danger or serve a compelling governmental interest, such as classified information. Without these tests in place to prosecute individuals who shout “Fire!” in a theater or routinely threaten people as they walk down the street, the government would be unable to keep our communities safe from such people.

This same doctrine should apply to the hate speech across the United States, groups such as Neo-Nazis who promote racism and genocide or the Westboro Baptist Church, who protest military funerals with homophobic signs and anti-gay slurs. We must acknowledge in our laws and society what the rest of the developed world already knows: Hate Speech is not protected speech. Hate speech is far more than just words, it is an attack on the core of one’s identity and as such, needs to be treated as seriously as if the recipient of the hate speech had been punched in the nose.

The idea that vandalism is an incorrect reaction to such unbridled racist statements as “Build the Wall” written in paint on a bridge is simply ludicrous. You don’t discuss things with the person who just punched you in the nose, you hit them right back, you threaten their well-being and post their social information on social media so that they can feel as unsafe as their “freedom” has made you or someone you know feel.

And at the core of what separates free speech from Hate Speech is people. Every developed country EXCEPT THE UNITED STATES, protects the rights of the minority through hate speech laws. The right to feel safe in the country you reside in is not a privilege reserved for those in power, it is a right to be enjoyed by all. If you don’t feel safe, what’s the point of freedom, anyhow?