It sounds good on paper. But the truth is quite a bit different and somewhat harder to hear.
The First Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.It's clean and simple. What people have to say is protected by the Constitution. Period. People may say things that are hateful, things that are rude and mean and arrogant and wrong, but even if we don't like it, it's not the government's place to tell them to shut up. Unless someone is threatening your life, purposefully slandering your reputation, or spreading secrets they swore to protect, the government cannot and should not prosecute them.
It's a hard truth to learn. It's not easy to hear things you disagree with. It's not easy to be lied about, cursed at, insulted, or offended. But if we turn to the government to start regulating the things we don't like, the things that make us uncomfortable, and the things that hurt us, we will be falling down a slippery slope that we may have to fight a war to get back up. Once we allow the government to start regulating speech, even speech considered hate speech, all the government has to do to suppress freedom of speech and the press is to throw people's words under the umbrella of hate speech and then everyone can be shut up.
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death the right to say it.This idea, put so cogently by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, a biographer of Voltaire, perfectly demonstrates the attitude of free speech. It was hard for me to get behind at first, but I value freedom so much I eventually took it to heart. Honestly, what the KKK has to say makes me want to vomit. Fascist and anti-fascist groups alike make me want to scream. But no matter what I think of what they have to say, if anyone tries to shut them up with the law, I will fight that person to my last breath. If we call on the government to solve our problems, we will eventually find them controlling our lives.
Instead of screaming at the government to ban the KKK and kick out the neo-Nazis from their planned protests, why don't we try peacefully spreading the truth instead? When somebody says something that offends us or makes us mad, when someone blatantly lies, instead of screaming at them or wailing that hate speech isn't supported by the First Amendment, why don't we try to calmly confront the liars with the truth or just simply walk away?
Frankly, saying "hate speech isn't protected by the First Amendment" is a threat to our freedom. Because eventually, the legislators will believe it and they will act on it. They will pass laws prohibiting hate speech and they will enforce them. It will start out innocent, but it won't stay that way. Pretty soon, innocent people will be thrown in jail simply for speaking their minds. It could be me. It could be you.
Freedom of speech is one of the most precious things we possess in our country. None of us want that to go away. So next time someone says something that offends you, something ignorant or prejudiced or just plain mean, instead of screaming at the government to shut them up or responding in kind to the ignorance and the hate, try taking a deep breath, respecting their (wrong) opinion, and spreading the truth.