Freedom of speech either is protected under the First Amendment; or it isn’t. The moment government begins to define acceptable and unacceptable types of speech, for strictly emotional reasons, is the moment that free speech is over.
At root, freedom of speech is freedom of thought; it’s freedom of the mind. We are all free to have, and express, whatever ideas we wish to express. Just as we are all free to disagree with, despise, or detest anything that anyone else says, they are likewise equally free to feel the same about what any one of us says. Nobody has to listen.
There is no rational basis for allowing the government to step in and define “hate” speech. What is the objective definition of “hate”? How is “hate” to be defined? More importantly: Who is to define it?
A white supremacist could claim that non-racist speech is hateful, and detrimental to “white values.” Will we allow courts and legislators the ability to outlaw anti-racist material?
A fundamentalist Christian could conclude that non-traditional attitudes about same-sex relationships, or the morality of abortion, are “hateful” to people who feel abortion is murder, and who don’t like the idea of same-sex relationships. Does this mean that a sympathetic judge could forbid people in favor of abortion or non-traditional attitudes about same-sex relationships to curb or halt their speech?
Of course not, goes the reply. Because, they say, it’s the racists who are guilty of hatred. And it’s the Christian fundamentalists are guilty of hatred.
Interestingly, and oddly, Islamic fundamentalists — who support death for homosexuals or women who have abortions — are not considered hateful.
Racists, conservative Christians and Muslims all think they’re right, and they all claim that truth is on their side, just as fervently as others claim truth is on their side. By what objective legal standard is the government to deem one set of ideas rational and therefore acceptable, and another set of ideas just the opposite?
CNN anchor Chris Cuomo recently created controversy when he claimed that “hate speech” is not protected by the First Amendment. But he did not offer a legal definition of what hate speech actually is; nor did he seem concerned that there be one.
Under the law, you must have objective definitions. Otherwise, it’s invalid law. We don’t, for example, have laws against “making a police officer mad.” You have to be found guilty of something concretely and objectively wrong, according to a particular law — otherwise, it has no business being a law.
Presumably, Chris Cuomo would leave it to judges, courts, legislators and regulators to decide what constitutes “hate.” Which judges, courts and regulators? The ones he agrees with; not ones with whom he disagrees.
It’s a futile and dangerous circle.
People ignore this issue at their peril, because freedom of speech and ideas are about one of the only consistent freedoms we have left. It’s in the realm of ideas (including speech) that the dissenting minority can make the case for restoring freedom in arenas such as economics, free enterprise, private business, communications, health care, education and many other areas. If free speech goes, there will be no arguments pro or con to make; it will all be over.
Personally, with my own column and blog, I have been labeled a “hater” who is guilty of “hate speech” for opposing Obamacare, for example. Is the concept of “hate” to be extended to anything and everything with which you or I — or Chris Cuomo — disagree?
Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, in response to Cuomo, said the following:
“His view is [anti-Islamic blogger Pamela Geller’s] not allowed to have a ‘Draw Muhammad’ contest because in his view, he has pronounced that is offensive. The question is offensive to whom, Chris? There is a group that finds this offensive, and there are tens if not hundreds of millions who have no issue with it whatsoever.”
Kelly hits on the key word here: “offensive.”
When people talk about making hate speech illegal, they’re actually saying: “Make speech that I find offensive illegal.” They’re not brazen or honest enough to put it that way; but the logic of their statements allows for no other interpretation.
Cuomo isn’t advocating making all controversial speech illegal; just the speech he dislikes. He calls it “hate speech” to put others on the defensive. “Oh my,” we’re supposed to think. “If I disagree with Cuomo, that makes me a hater. So I better keep quiet.” That’s what people like him do, to stop you in your tracks. It’s called the argument from intimidation.
Ironically, I personally agree with progressive-liberals like Cuomo that homosexuality and abortion are completely moral. But I have no desire whatsoever to shut down the printing presses, websites or broadcasting stations of people who disagree with me on those subjects (or any other subject). In a society where free speech is curbed or eliminated, such other freedoms are meaningless and pointless anyway.
As someone who probably agrees with Cuomo on more social issues than not, I’m much more upset and disturbed by his claim that “hate speech” isn’t protected by the First Amendment than by the statements of anyone with whom I disagree. Why? Because Cuomo is advocating dictatorship. The essence of dictatorship is when the government controls thoughts, speech and ideas. I realize Cuomo doesn’t consider it dictatorship. After all, in his version of the First Amendment, people who agree with him (including myself, in some cases) will be permitted to say whatever they wish. Those he deems “hateful” will enjoy only conditional “free” speech. He only wants to curb free speech when it’s hateful — as he (and like-minded judges and legislators) define it. This isn’t freedom.
Psychologically, by the way, it’s an indication of profound insecurity and uncertainty about your own views — whatever those views are — when you rely on the force of government to prevent those from spreading ideas with which you disagree. Simply put, if you were confident in the rationality of your ideas, you would not feel a need for government laws or police officers to prevent the dissemination of different ideas. You’d also be smart enough to realize that minds cannot be forced to think. (Cuomo is supposed to be a brilliant Yale graduate; he would do well to study elementary psychology, or maybe just spend time around more people in the real world.)
If a majority disagree with you, then your job is to persuade them. You’re not entitled to have people agree with you. If they don’t wish to be persuaded, and hold blatantly irrational ideas as, say, Nazis or white supremacists do, then government intervention will only inflame them more. Intimidating them into silence will not change their minds. It will only give you the peace of mind that a drug addict gets from self-numbing and self-delusion.
I recognize that certain views are indeed hateful, irrational, and counter-productive. I fully realize that there are objectively right and wrong answers to questions that can be proven and rationally defended. That’s not the point. The point is: By what right does the government prevent certain people from holding and spreading those ideas and attitudes, in whatever way they see fit? By what right does the government interfere in the process of human reason, thinking and learning?
Cuomo works for a private, international news network. I doubt very much he’d like it if the FCC, or a court, or a President came in and shut him down for expressing his views. But what’s he counting on to prevent that from happening, if the First Amendment is only to be enforced selectively? Is he so sure that only people with whom he agrees, on largely everything, will always be in charge? What planet does Chris Cuomo live on?
There’s no such thing as a right not to be offended. If you want an example of a culture and social system where such a “right” is attempted, take a look at any militant Muslim country, such as Iran.
There’s nothing more hateful than a group of people with the power to extinguish freedom of thought and freedom of speech. Such a prospect is much more depraved and depressing than anything Cuomo claims to be against.
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