“Free speech is not to be regulated like diseased cattle and impure butter. The audience that hissed yesterday may applaud today, even for the same performance.” – William O. Douglas
The first amendment is the document that secured in pen our pre-existing right to speak freely. The first amendment didn’t create free speech anymore than the civil rights movement made blacks equal to whites—it simply set an already existing human right into man-made law.
The freedom to speak openly without fear of reprisal is not just a human right, it is part of our state of being; it’s as essential to who we are as our consciousness.
But there are those who want to suppress this intrinsic right because of their own sensibilities.
According to a new YouGov poll, when asked the question: “Would you support or oppose a law that would make it a crime for people to make public comments intended to stir up hatred against a group based on things such as their race, gender, religion, ethnic group, or sexual orientation?” a stunning 41% said yes. This is the plurality. 39% opposed.
Broken down, Democrats were more on board (no surprise), with 51% supporting, and 26% opposing. However, 37% of Republicans also said they would support such measures.
As George Orwell said, “So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.” Given that, I expect Democrats to do stupid things, but when the overall percentage favors supporting measures which would suppress free speech, we’ve entered frightening territory.
There is a caveat. It is possible that those who answered didn’t understand the question. As YouGov points out, hate crimes are already illegal, but “hate speech” as it were is protected in the United States, unlike in many other countries. The respondents may have misunderstood the question, thinking it referred to actual criminal acts—but if that’s the case, I’m still awestruck at the idiocy. Either the audience misunderstood a simple question, or they believe free speech should be suppressed.
As has been repeated recently in reference to the Garland, Texas “Draw Mohammed” shooting, the first amendment wasn’t designed to protect speech with which everyone agrees, it was designed to protect speech some may find offensive, or even sickening.
We protect free speech because if even one tenth of one percent of speech is banned because a majority—or a vocal minority—find it offensive, it becomes a fracture in the dam. This fracture will not stay as it is for very long, because as pressure builds, it will expand, leading to more and more grand fractures, resulting in the entire structure collapsing. What begins as a minor fault can and will inevitably lead to total censorship.
Who controls what is deemed offensive? The people? The government? A council of oracles? Who?
If the people are in control of what is defined as “hate speech,” there will be no agreement. Everyone is offended by something. If we allow one group’s definition of offensive words to restrict speech, every single act of speech will fall like dominoes, because if one group’s ideas are considered valid, everyone’s have to be. This leads to total censorship.
If we allow the government to make the decision, it will be left to whoever is in power to decide what is offensive. How do you think that would work out? One side would use the power to silence their opposition. This would create a tyranny.
No one can be the arbiter. We must allow all speech, or we must allow none; it’s an all or nothing proposition. I personally consider the slander of Christ offensive. For example, if an artist decides to place a crucifix in a jar of urine, that is offensive to me personally. However, I do not, and would not eversay that someone shouldn’t be allowed to do it–because there begins the landslide.
Some people are hateful, some people are evil, and some people want to use their rights to stir up hatred against others, but unless it’s a direct threat of injury or a direct threat to life, it’s protected under the first amendment.
Censoring hatred will lead to the censorship of everything else.
As George Bernard Shaw (a very offensive man himself) said: “Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.”
Either we’re at the top of the mountain, speaking freely, or we’re at the bottom, silenced by the rubble. There is no in-between.