Hate Speech And The First Amendment
The First Amendment, in the minds of most Americans, brings up the high-held thought of free speech. The concept of free speech – a relatively new concept in modern history – is seen to be a fundamental pillar in what is to be any free society. In recent years, in an effort to make the nation more tolerant and to have less prejudice towards others, many fight for the need to label some speech — hate speech. Although hate speech is not regulated in the U. S. , it’s widely interpreted to mean “demeaning or derogatory speech or writing that verbally attacks people on the basis that they are part of, or seem to be part of, a social group of protected attributes, such as race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity, etc. ” The debate on whether the First Amendment does protect hate speech and whether it should, only leads to a further divide of how Americans view other Americans on the other side of the political spectrum. Some view that limiting the First Amendment to restrict hate speech is a slippery slope and dangerous to the republic’s principles; others believe that not restricting hate speech is morally wrong and dangerous to those who it’s hateful toward. Overall, hate speech is difficult to define, especially when who it’s hateful toward is constantly in flux.
For that reason, so-called hate speech becomes a necessary evil that needs to be lived with in order to maintain a free society. The difficulty in defining hate objectively has led the Supreme Court to continuously rule that so-called hate speech is protected under the First Amendment. Yet, more recently, the idea of hate speech and its impacts on others has wrongfully taken a more significant role in national politics. The restrictions that do exist on the First Amendment have been established due to their incitement of violence or a direct threat towards someone; this includes threatening people due to their race or religion, but not because it was about race or religion but because it is a threat to the sovereignty of the individual. In turn, the Supreme Court has been very cautious in restricting people’s ability to say what they wish – no matter the controversy. The Court has taken the overall position that the ability to offend others is more important to the preservation of a free society. For example, in the Illinois Supreme Court case of Village of Skokie v. National Socialist Party of America, the National Socialist Party of America (NSPA) was permitted to hold a demonstration in the village of Skokie — a village with a heavy Jewish population — since the group had a First Amendment right to a public demonstration of their views, no matter how distasteful. This demonstrates the federal precedence set for this situation is towards the preservation of free speech, so much so, that even Nazi sympathizers have a right to espouse their view in public.
Even if the Supreme Court were to rule that hate speech is not protected, that decision would also hurt the groups and peoples that the phrase is intended to protect. During the Civil Rights era, black leaders fed up with slow progress “routinely inveighed against white America using inflammatory rhetoric”. They challenged the status quo. Yet, these groups were characterized as hate groups. This put them under the continuous scrutiny of the FBI during the Hoover Administration, which would lead to harrasment of memebers and occasionally violence — justified, of course, by the fact that these black nationalist groups were encouraging hate. If the Supreme Court had ruled against hate speech at that time, these groups fighting against segregation could’ve been silenced by the government legally. Furthermore, the fight against hate speech has always crumbled when presented to the Supreme Court as to protect the freedom of speech for all instead of limiting it to a subjective basis for the sole purpose of protecting people of distasteful rhetoric. The fight against hate speech has become more mainstream as social media has expanded the potential reach of an individual to an extent never seen by any other form of communication previously. Yet that also leads to not only a conflict between free speech and hate speech, but also a conflict between public and private organizations being able to enforce rules as they see fit.
Social media currently has two ways of being labeled as, publisher or platform, “a figurative blank sheet of paper on which anyone can write anything…or one can argue that social media platforms have now evolved into curators of content”. In other words, either social media sites are responsible for every word on their platform — as in, publishers like newspapers — or they don’t take responsibility for any word on their platform because the responsibility is soley of the individual using the program — as in, platforms like cell phone companies.
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