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Topics Homepage> Free speech should not protect hate speech

Free speech should not protect hate speech

PRO (6 assertions)

Define: Free speech: The right to express one’s opinions in an unprovacative and responsible manner.

Should not protect: As in what we should do legally.

Hate speech: Any communication that disparages a person or a group on the basis of some characteristic such as race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display that is already forbidden in other countries because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. Encyclopedia of the American Constitution


Rebuttal To: Westboro Snyder v. Phelps Case

Assertion: Actually, this case was not about hate speech. Not once in the majority decision written by Chief Justice Roberts or in the dissent written by Justice Alito, was the phrase “hate speech” ever written.  Instead this case hinged on whether the Westboro church was engaging in public or private speech. The picket signs reflected the church’s view that the United States is overly tolerant of sin and that God kills American soldiers as punishment. The court decided in an 8 to 1 decision that this speech was “public” in nature and therefore, afforded the highest protections of the First Amendment. Public speech differs from hate speech in that it is directed at an overarching idea or governmental policy and not at a specific individual, ethnicity, religious group or sexuality. The Court also suggested in their ruling that the wounds inflicted by vicious verbal assaults at funerals will be prevented or at least mitigated in the future by new laws that restrict picketing within a specified distance of a funeral. And precisely that has happened in Maryland where the Westboro incident took place.  Maryland has enacted a law restricting picketing at funerals, thus showing once again, that hate speech should and is being restricted in the U.S.


Rebuttal To: 1st amendment bans restrictions on the freedom of speech

Assertion: The 1st Amendment has actually been amended such that, “restrictions [are allowed] upon the content of speech in a few limited areas [including hate speech], which are ‘of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.’ ” As we’ve clearly proven, hate speech is both immoral, and leads to violence and unrest, so clearly, it is all done to the detriment of society.

Rebuttal To: The U.S. government has no right determining what we do or don’t say

Assertion: Actually, it does. It is the government’s responsibility to say what’s wrong and right. For example, murder, rape, child pornography, etc. are all ideas and actions that our government takes the liberty to outlaw. If we used the logic of the CON, then people would have all freedoms of every type, which cannot possibly coexist with an orderly, functioning society. We need to set our foot down somewhere, and this is where we take a stand.


1. How is it more just to put the rights of those abused behind the rights of the abusers?

1. Assertion: It is unjust to put the rights of those who would use hate speech above the rights of those who are its victims.

Reasoning: Hate speech is not valuable speech and thus the harm it inflicts upon its victims outweighs any First Amendment protections. Hate speech intimidates, denigrates and humiliates its victims.  What about their rights to equality and the pursuit of happiness guaranteed by our Constitution?

Evidence: Dr. Agnès Callamard, the Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, an international human rights organization says “Equally fundamental to the protection of human rights are the principles of the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings and the obligation of all countries to take measures to promote ‘universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion’. There is no denying that certain forms of hateful expression can threaten the dignity of targeted individuals and create an environment in which the enjoyment of equality is not possible.

2. Assertion: Hate speech leads to increased tensions between classes and eventually to violence

Reasoning: Hate speech, by definition, is provocative. Also, according to research done by Michigan State University, 47% of hate speech led to increased tensions racially, religiously, and personally, and over 25% eventually led to violence or someone being harmed physically. Hate speech in its infant stages is bad, but what follows it no matter what (violence, increased tension) is clearly unbeneficial and therefore it shouldn’t be protected under our laws. What we’ve worked so hard to achieve, through the words of Martin Luther King, the policies John F. Kennedy, the courage of Jackie Robinson, and countless other famous men and women will be torn down by the rampant usage of hate speech. It undermines not only all the progress we’ve made the last century of decreasing tensions between two different groups, but it also destroys the very foundation of our country and morals in the process.

Evidence: Michigan State University, NYTimes 2008

Other cases in world history include: Danish cartoons making racist remarks about the Islamic prophet Muhammed led to riots, World War II, Irish Protestants vs. Irish Catholics, and Salman Rushdie, a British-Indian novelist who wrote about tensions between the East and Western cultures, contributed to the already high tensions between the two groups.

However, the most infamous and horrible of all these cases is the Holocaust. The hate speech and propaganda spread by the Nazi government led to the extermination of 12 million innocent lives during the Holocaust. Today, Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. Also, it is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France. Additionally, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. (NYT article: 2008). Why is the U.S. so far behind? These nations aren’t dictatorships either. They’re all modernized, 1st Tier democracies that function just as well as the U.S., so why can’t we do the same to ensure safety and liberty in our country?

3. Assertion: Hate speech can be regulated in a just manner

Reasoning: Canada, our democratic, industrialized neighbor to our north, which shares many of our social values, regulates hate speech in a balanced and thoughtful way.

Evidence: Regulation of hate speech in Canada must conform to the following guidelines, which are determined by a court:

• it should be clearly and narrowly defined; • it should be applied by a body which is independent of political, commercial or other unwarranted influences, and in a manner which is neither arbitrary nor discriminatory, and which is subject to adequate safeguards against abuse, including the right of access to an independent court or tribunal; • and no one should be penalized for statements which are true.

Says Dr. Callamard, the Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, an international human rights organization,  "the international commitment to eradicate hate propaganda and, most importantly, the special role given equality and multiculturalism in the Canadian Constitution necessitate a departure from the view, reasonably prevalent in America at present, that the suppression of hate propaganda is incompatible with the guarantee of free expression. In Canada, hate speech laws stem from a desire to promote societal harmony.” So, it is possible to stem hate speech while still promoting hate speech.

4. Assertion: The U.S. has too lenient on its policies on hate speech

Reasoning: The U.S. has the most stringent requirement on the restriction of hate speech of any nation.  If the speech does not reach the level of inflicting injury or causing immediate violence, the First Amendment protects it.  This is too high a standard and is rarely met, but when it is met, the consequences are dire. And even when the requirements aren’t met, hate speech can and does add fuel to an already blazing fire of hatred and helps it to boil over. Hate speech may be indirect in how it destroys society from the inside out, but we need tougher measures on it.

Evidence:  Former New York Times columnist, Anthony Lewis, in his book "A Biography of the First Amendment” "I think we should be able to punish speech that urges terrorist violence to an audience, some of whose members are ready to act on the urging. That is imminence enough.” It is easy to imagine such a scenario. What if a fundamentalist religious extremist group publishes a guidebook on how to commit terrorism in the United States, with detailed instructions on making bombs and maps showing the homes and offices of government officials? Instructions alone would not seem to constitute incitement, so assume that the book will also include a statement from the religion's most revered leader urging that the guaranteed path to eternal bliss is following the instructions in the book.  This should be restricted hate speech as situations similar to this have already occurred and have led to attempted terrorist acts, such as Richard Reid, the notorious “shoe bomber”, who received such anti-American pamphlets while a prisoner in an English jail. (Source: Time Magazine).

Assertions #5, 6

CON (6 assertions)

Start off speech by saying this:

"You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists."—Patrick Henry

Remember: We’re not trying to prove that hate speech is good, just that it should be protected

Rebuttal To: Hate crimes are caused by hate speech

Assertion: Actually, no. First of all, the percent of violent crimes that were hate crimes in 2008 was less than 1% of all crimes committed. And banning hate speech has not shown any correlation with reduced hate crime rates anyway. France, with the most stringent of all hate speech laws in Europe, experiences the highest rate of hate crime in Europe, according to the book The Burden of Crime in the EU. This fact just illustrates that hate speech doesn’t translate into hate crimes and that taking away the freedom of speech from the entire population doesn’t translate into any positives crime wise.

1. Assertion: The United States is right to protect hate speech because the right of free speech is fundamental to our national identity.

Reasoning: Hate speech, hateful and vile by its very nature, is still of value as proof of our commitment to individual freedoms. In most countries, a victim of hate speech may seek redress under civil law, criminal law, or both. However, in the United States, hate speech laws have been held to be incompatible with free speech, a basic tenet of our democracy. It is precisely our ability to engage in hate speech that makes our country unique in the world as a defender of individual liberties. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose 1919 dissent in Abrams v. United States which eventually formed the basis for modern First Amendment law, said, "I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death."

Evidence: The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  It’s our constitution, and our fierce adherence and allegiance to it that makes the United States the world leader in protecting individual liberties.

2. Assertion: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that it does

Reasoning: Many recent and past Supreme Court cases have come to the conclusion that hate speech is justified under our 1st Amendment

Evidence: Just three weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the court case Snyder vs. Phelps that proclaimed that hate speech was clearly legal and justified under the 1st amendment’s guaranteed rights of the freedom of speech. Snyder was a Marine killed in the line of duty in Iraq, while Fred Phelps, the defendant, was the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church and had picketed Snyder’s funeral with posters that said that he was glad that the soldier had died and other hatred directed at the U.S. Army and it’s gay soldier policy. This landmark case proved that hate speech is, indeed, protected under our Bill of Rights and that even though it may not sound pretty, it is clearly legal under our current judicial laws and rulings. Chief Justice John Roberts affirmed the appeals court decision in an opinion for the high court, emphasizing that speech on public issues "cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt.

In l977, American neo-Nazis were given the right to march through Skokie, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago where many Jewish Holocaust survivors lived, though they could have caused emotional harm to the populace, for the freedom of speech was ruled more important.

In l988, Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, the Supreme Court overturned a jury award in favor of Rev. Jerry Falwell for intentional infliction of emotional distress. In that majority opinion, Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote, “Outrageousness in the area of political and social discourse has an inherent subjectiveness about it which would allow a jury to impose liability on the basis of the jurors’ tastes or views, or perhaps on the basis of their like of a particular expression.”

3. Assertion: Restrictions on hate speech will chill legitimate speech

Reasoning: Under the threat of possible indictment, many people will refrain from discussing controversial but important ideas. Speech bans are often broad and vague, leaving citizens unsure what might get them hauled into court. This is what has happened in American workplaces, where hostile work environment laws have left many employers unsure what they can say to employees. Many Americans avoid all controversial speech and voluntarily refrain from any controversial topics at work. Hate laws would extend this chilling effect even further, to the national political scene.

Evidence: Legal philosopher Edmond Cahn points out that hate speech bans would leave our bookshelves empty. "[T]he officials could begin by prosecuting anyone who distributes the Christian gospels, because they contain many defamatory statements not only about Jews but also about Christians. Then the officials could ban Greek literature for calling the rest of the world "barbarians." Roman authors could be suppressed because when they were not defaming the Gallic and Teutonic tribes, they were disparaging the Italians. Then there is Shakespeare, who openly affronts the French, the Welsh, the Danes"

4. Assertion: Hate speech is a non-violent outlet for unpopular or fringe opinions.

Reasoning: Without this outlet, many groups may opt for more undesirable violent actions.  Hate speech helps to stem violent protest. Judge, would you rather have someone actually take a gun, point it in someone’s face, and pull the trigger? Or, would you rather have someone peacefully protest against something nonviolently? Clearly, hate speech is beneficial as a peaceful outlet for expression and should be allowed in that it gives people an alternative to using violence and other extreme measures.  It allows them to use their words in order to disagree with something. Hate speech stems violence in that it offers another gateway to express serious opinions that need to be expressed, instead of resorting to violence. However, if hate speech is outlawed, then people will bypass this healthier alternative and instead take the more radical and violent route. It’s one thing to talk about something, and another to do it.

Evidence:  According to the Executive Director ARTICLE 19, an international human rights organization which defends and promotes freedom of expression and freedom of information all over the world, there is no evidence that censoring or banning groups that espouse hate speech has any impact on their existence or rising influence. In fact, most evidence testifies to the fact that criminalizing such groups too often results in their radicalization. Penalizing the expression of their ideas does not reduce the problem or make the proponents of such ideas disappear. On the contrary, hate speech legislation in such cases constitutes a blunt instrument, a double-edged sword that too often amounts to political expediency rather than well thought-through strategies to tackle discrimination, prevent violence and protect the right to life and to equality. Specific example: John Lennon’s murderer spent three years containing his anger at John Lennon and his ways , until it boiled over and he eventually murdered John Lennon one day.

Assertions #5, 6