Hate Speech vs. Free Speech

hate speechPhoto Credit: http://www.mixednation.com

I have noticed it is becoming more and more common for people to react to any form of criticism of speech as impeding on our freedom of speech. The First Amendment does promise the freedom of speech, which is one of the great aspects of America; however, problems emerge when people fail to recognize that freedom of speech does not mean there cannot be certain limitations, the same way there are limitations on many aspects of our lives. In a free country, there are still rules, laws and regulations to abide by to ensure safety for every citizen within the country. The First Amendment is no exception to having certain limitations for the well-being of our society, which means people have the right to criticize speech when we find it hateful, threatening, or unjust. In fact, people today often overlook the fact that the First Amendment also protects the right for people to peacefully assemble and petition the government when necessary. When it comes down to it, some people attempt to protect their racist, sexist, and otherwise offensive language under cover of the First Amendment, which is not acceptable. We need to seriously consider the implications and repercussions of hate speech and why it is detrimental to Americans today.

First and foremost, it is important to remember that criticizing hate speech does not imply wanting get rid of free speech. Of course not! The First Amendment applies to everyone, and if someone simply does not agree with the opinions of another, this does not constitute hate speech. Within this blog, I am not trying to argue the legality of hate speech. This is obviously up for our legal system to decide, and I am by no means a lawyer. I am instead aiming to talk about what is right. Hate speech by definition is speech that offends or threatens certain groups based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, and so on. In my opinion, there is a difference between a disagreement and blatant hateful language that offends or threatens entire groups of people. People that are offended by this speech have the right to speak out against it, whether it be against someone in their community or a larger public figure, in hopes of creating better awareness of specific issues in our society.

Hate speech is not necessarily illegal, and is generally protected by the law. My question is, just because it is technically legal in most situations, is this the kind of language we want to put out into the world? People may have the constitutional right to legally say hateful things, but this does not mean they are acceptable to say. The key to a progressive society is thinking about our language, correcting and analyzing unjust statements people are making, and constantly moving towards a more accepting culture. People have learned to not scream “fire” in a movie theatre, or make threats in an airport, then try to laugh it off as a joke under their First Amendment rights. Individuals know fighting words are illegal, and they know saying something inappropriate online could get them fired by an employer. I value the freedom of speech in America. I value the diversity of thoughts and backgrounds and the ability to speak your mind. I appreciate cognitive disagreement and academic settings that challenge beliefs. However, I believe that in the same way people learn to limit their language in certain situations, people can also learn to be politically correct and abstain from hateful speech, and instead contribute to more productive discussion.

I also commonly hear people troubled by political correctness. The truth is, racism and sexism are still alive and well in our country, and although we have come a long way, there is still a long way to go. Calling people out on racist or sexist language now apparently means that people are obsessed with being politically correct, but I do not think this is a damaging concept. Political correctness is defined as “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people”. Isn’t this called practicing basic respect towards the fellow people living our diverse country? That being said, I do not think anyone that says something politically incorrect is purposefully trying to do so. This, in my opinion, is the idea of political correctness. It simply encourages correcting yourself and catching others when there might be room to be more educated or understanding of a concept.

Ending hate speech and being more politically correct both have the same goal: to be checking and improving our language in order to create a more respectful environment. It is the responsibility of mature citizens to educate themselves on the diverse backgrounds in America and try to cultivate a more accepting society. Let’s use our right to free speech to discuss differences and learn from each other, rather than spew thoughtless hate under the guise of the constitution. I am simply hoping for people to be more responsible and respectful with their words so we can create a more comfortable environment for every American to live in, regardless of our distinct backgrounds.

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