Liberty Commentary

In Defense Of Hate Speech

from J Borowski

A poll, conducted by online pollster YouGov, finds that more Americans support rather than oppose criminalizing hate speech.

YouGov’s latest research shows that many Americans support making it a criminal offense to make public statements which would stir up hatred against particular groups of people. Americans narrowly support (41%) rather than oppose (37%) criminalizing hate speech, but this conceals a partisan divide. Most Democrats (51%) support criminalizing hate speech, with only 26% opposed. Independents (41% to 35%) and Republicans (47% to 37%) tend to oppose making it illegal to stir up hatred against particular groups.

Westboro Baptist churchThere’s a lot of problems with this.

First, what constitutes as hate speech?

Is it someone saying that they’re against gay marriage? Is it someonecriticizing Israel? Is it someone drawing Mohammad? Is it someone rapping about killing his ex-wife? Is it a “Pray for More Dead Soldiers” sign? Is it someone trash talking on X-Box? Is it every South Park episode?

It’s an entirely subjective term.

Everyone is going to have different standards. There’s a lot of gray areas. In the context of criminalizing hate speech, we’re talking about the government determining what is hate speech and what isn’t. And, “I’ll know it when I see it”isn’t going to cut it.

If you’re a conservative, would you trust Hillary Clinton’s administration with that power? If you’re a liberal, would you trust Rick Santorum’s administration with that power? If you’re a libertarian, would you trust anyone with that power? (I think I already know the answer.)

Criminalizing implies punishment. What would the punishment be for saying something illegal? Fines? Jail time? Depends? It’s easy to say, “Yeah, saying ____ should be illegal.” But are you really comfortable with the government punishing someone for saying something that you don’t like?

Because that’s what it is.

Look, there’s no good reason to criminalize speech.

Some people say, “hate speech is not free speech.” Then, what is freedom of speech? The freedom to only say really nice things that are universally agreed upon? Please. The whole point of freedom of speech is specifically to protect controversial speech.

People should be allowed to express their opinions without fear of government persecution. Even if their opinions are dumb, offensive, bigoted, or what have you.

That doesn’t mean that you have to accept their opinion. You’re free to disagree, condemn them, refuse to associate with them, and/or boycott their business. There’s many other options that don’t involve making them into criminals for their words.

This is how a free society works. Sure, it can get messy at times. I think Thomas Jefferson (or whoever made up this quote cause I don’t trust online quotes) was on to something when he said, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”

There’s always going to be someone saying something that you don’t like. There are much better ways to handle it than limiting freedom of speech. Because one day, you could be targeted for your words.