Does Freedom of Speech Give People the Right to Use Hate Speech?
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist” Salman Rushdie. The quote perfectly sums up the never-ending debate about freedom of speech and hate speech. It is a well-known fact that freedom of speech and expression belongs to the group of fundamental human rights of every person on this planet. Lately, we are witnessing the rising concerns about hate speech, is it protected by this basic human right or freedom of speech should have some limitations? Given the fact that every individual is allowed to express thoughts and beliefs, banning the negative comments would, in fact, deny his or her basic rights i.e. freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech reinforces all other human rights, thus allowing society to develop and progress at a constant rate. The ability to state our opinion and speak freely is pivotal for any change in society. Throughout the history, society evolved thanks to the individuals, great thinkers, brave leaders, who were not scared to express their beliefs. Back in time, those beliefs that were contrary to the typical “mindset” would be considered as hate, a hatred towards their way of life, culture, and tradition. The most reputable professors, experts, and campaigners only confirm that free speech has always been used to fight for change, for better times.
Besides reinforcement of other human rights, free speech is also essential due to the ability to hear others and be heard at the same time. We need to hear other people’s views as well as offering them our own opinions. Unfortunately, one of the fastest-growing problems of our society is that people rarely listen to others and acknowledge their takes on certain topics if they don’t agree with them. We should feel comfortable exchanging ideas and thoughts with those who have opposing views. Experts agree that way there would be less “hate speech” circling around.
We hear or read the term “hate speech” a lot, especially now with the easy internet access and a multitude of social media websites to join. It comes as no wonder why insulting comments and expressing negative ideas are considered a threat to the humanity. A lot of people are anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-gay marriage, and so on. Those who assume hate speech is not a freedom of speech, primarily, focus on the expression of a negative attitude towards certain people and ideas. However, if we start banning people from expressing their beliefs, then what comes next? After one thing, there always comes another and, eventually, the mankind would live in fear of saying anything. The reality is that the society has become oversensitive; everything one does not agree with is considered insulting and branded as hate.
Finally, freedom of speech is the most important human right that every individual has the right to exercise. This freedom comes with the ability to express one’s opinion, regardless of its nature good or bad. What our society needs today are not limitations of free speech, but making efforts to establish dialogues between people with conflicting beliefs. Listening and being heard will go a long way; that way we could build bridges instead of burning them.
There is one thing regarding human rights issues where the United States are ahead of most democracies, and that is the common law trials where law is established through precedents an where a person is judged by a jury of his or her peers. Nevertheless other countries with British legal tradition share that feature. There is however one issue regarding which the United States respect the freedom speech more then any other democracy in the world, racism and hate talk. Racists and haters in Canada, UK, Sweden, Bosnia and Russia are not allowed to express or publish their hateful thoughts and opinions directed against people that are different to them, or they will most likely end up in jail. (Bleich, p. 17-18)
Most Canadians and Europeans agree with such laws since they offer a simple solution to a human rights and freedom of speech issue that can and will cause problems and racial tensions. However in the United Sates one has the right to be a racist and a hater and therefore the right to express that opinion. Prohibiting hate talk and racist opinions is unconstitutional in the United Sates, and rightfully so, racists are also humans and have the right to express their opinion just like anybody else since human rights should be the same for all. (Bleich, p. 17-18)
If a group of White Power members or sympathizers wants to have a rally or speak at the university they should have the same right as the Feminist, Muslim, gay or Hippy speakers. (First Amendment Center) Every public place in which a person can speak publicly should be accessible for all speakers. That is the only way a true democracy can work, anything else is a direct attack against the democratic process. This does not go only for white racists and haters it goes for all races, if an African speaker wants to say that all white people are scum he/she has the right to do it. However in: 2011, “a South African court banned “Dubulu iBhunu (Shoot the Boer),” a derogatory song degrading Afrikaners, on the basis that it violated a South African law prohibiting speech that demonstrates a clear intention to be hurtful, to incite harm, or to promote hatred.” (Benech, p2, 3.) This is an example of free speech limitations where the white community was the object of discrimination.
Many people might object to that view of things and say that racists and haters should not be allowed to express their opinions because they incite hatred and violence. However they are not allowed to publically incite violence. A racist might say that she or would like to see all black people killed but that is only his or her personal opinion. On the other hand if the same racist would incite a mob to lynching that would be a crime.
The Economist speaks about the down side of free speech as it reports about the racist claims by: “Glenn Miller, a write-in candidate to replace the retiring Kit Bond in the Senate.”(The Economist) Namely Mr. Miller does not like the Jews and claims they hold all the media as well as he claims that white people should stop watching “cons” play ball and should fight for their rights instead. The journalist is shocked by the fact that Mr. Miller can broadcast this over the radio but the radio station itself cannot censor the content of the advertisement in any way, it is the federal law. (The Economist)
Racism is bad, whatever race it may stem from, it influences the children negatively who in turn become intolerant adults. It is a very ignorant philosophy that thrives on insignificant physical differences between the people of different races. It is something that should not exist in the age of reason but it exists, and people simply have to deal with it. The only way racism can be eradicated is through education and by setting a good example to the next generation. It is also important for the community to keep up the education programs that will keep the kids off the streets and out of gangs that promote racial hatred. White and black gang leaders tell their soldiers that the other race is at fault for everything and that is why they should fight against them.
There should also be much more concern for the lack of equal opportunities racism then about the fact that a group of skinheads wants to hold a rally in a park. Actually there was quite a scandal back in the 1980s when a group of skinheads wanted to rally through a Jewish neighborhood. All hell broke loose and the Jewish community tried everything to stop the march. The case ended up in court and finally the Nazis decided to do the rally elsewhere, to them it was important that they were in front of TV cameras for several months and that many have heard what they have to say.
In conclusion it is the best course of action to leave the racists alone and ignore them, the only they will stop doing what they do is if there is no one to listen to them. On the other hand if the state tries to prohibit them things will only get worse and they will go underground.
Benesch, Susan. “Words as Weapons”. World Policy Journal (Spring 2012).
Bleich, Erik. The freedom to be racist?: how the United States and Europe struggle to preserve freedom and combat racism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.
Racism and free speech: Congress shall make no law… | The Economist.” The Economist – World News, Politics, Economics, Business & Finance. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://www.economist.com/node/15911528
First Amendment Center – news, commentary, analysis on free speech, press, religion, assembly, petition. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/free-speech-on-public-college-campuses>.