By Richard Gill
Let’s begin with a definition of hate speech.
Hate speech is not what subjectively offends an individual, but something much more serious and threatening. Hate speech is the advocacy of the death of any group of people based on race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
And hate speech is the dehumanization of any of these protected groups, like calling a gay person a pedophile.
Unlike many other Western countries, the United States doesn’t have laws on the books that protect marginalized communities from hate speech unless violence is imminent because of absolutist interpretations of the First Amendment.
Some people see absolute freedom of speech as a necessary foundation for a functional democracy, but the fact that other Western secular democracies have made hate speech illegal, including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, and Germany, demonstrates that it can be acceptable to have a balance between civil liberties and safety.
Our democracy won’t crumble to pieces if we establish stronger prohibitions against speech that can lead to violence.
Hate speech has sinister and serious consequences.
And a genocide such as the Holocaust isn’t just a freak occurrence in history - there has been the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide, the genocide committed against the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and the ongoing genocide against gay men in Chechnya.
Outlawing hate speech is the least America could do to redress her history of genocide, slavery, and oppression of anybody who wasn’t a straight white man. And the legacies of these systems of oppression still live with us in contemporary times.
For example, right-wing terrorism against vulnerable groups of people continues to happen and it perpetuates oppression. Right-wing terrorism is more of a threat to American society than Islamic extremism. According to the Center for Strategic & International Studies, 67% of terrorist attacks stem from the right wing of the political spectrum.
Life is hard for anybody who isn’t a straight white man in America because society wasn’t designed specifically for them and our institutions are biased against them. If people are racist, homophobic, and sexist, then our institutions will be racist, homophobic, and sexist.
People from underrepresented groups have to work twice as hard in anything they do just to get the same recognition as a straight white man would receive.
Moreover, making hate speech unlawful in this country would help stop it from spreading to others. If the speech is removed, then it can’t reach as many people as it could if it were allowed to be practiced out in the open.
It would also disempower people from using their voices in the wrong way. People wouldn’t feel as though they have a license to spread hatred toward marginalized groups.
Laws preventing hate speech would serve to undermine any efforts made to organize a group of people on the basis of hatred for another group of people.
And while hateful voices are being legally undermined, the voices of marginalized communities would be supported and uplifted through the recognition that the laws give to their safety and protection.
Additionally, America already does have some limitations to freedom of speech such as the fact that one cannot make speech that is intended to incite violence. This reflects that not all speech should be protected by the First Amendment.
And that it can be necessary and proper to have a balance between civil liberties and safety as well as order.
Not all speech is created equal.
Some people downright have beliefs that are not respectable whatsoever, and I don’t see any reason why I should respect their right to harbor beliefs that history has shown to be dangerous. Dangerous beliefs lead to dangerous actions - thus, everyone should be concerned about bad actors speaking hatefully about any protected group of people.
And if one thinks they don’t need to be bothered by the rhetoric of extremists because it isn’t them the extremists want to harm, I assure you that in one way or another, you would be affected by the nefarious plans of said extremists.
Because if they’ll target one group of people, then they’ll do it to any group of people.
It is problematic to have people who don’t respect human dignity and worth running around disseminating deleterious and unrespectable ideologies.