Essay on Hate Speech
Number of words: 1089
A well-established democratic society should allow and protect human rights, and freedom of speech is amongst these rights. Individuals should be allowed the right to express themselves without censorship, restrain, and without legal consequences. Nevertheless, when the right to express oneself is substituted for threats, abuse, and prejudice, this right and freedom should be denied. More significantly, when a person’s speech or writing threatens the nation’s unity, he or she should be held accountable. Hate speech undermines the very concept of democracy, and therefore it should not be protected by the First Amendment.
It is important to note that freedom of speech is a concept protected by the Constitution, and it is viewed as a critical element of the United States democracy. On the other hand, hate speech is not directly regulated because of the extensive and robust right to free speech established in the Constitution. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has, over the years, defined freedom of speech to include certain aspects that many viewed as underlying elements of hate speech. For instance, in the 1971 Cohen v. California case, the Supreme Court ruled that freedom of speech may include the right to include certain offensive words and phrases to convey a message.
But to critically understand the general concept surrounding the freedom of speech and why the Constitution should not protect hate speech, it is vital to first look to the past. The First Amendment was adopted in 1791 and is meant to protect people’s religions, freedom of speech, and, more importantly, protect the press and people’s right to protest (Coates, 223). In 1787, a group of legislators like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton met and drafted a new U.S. Constitution. Anti-federalists, including the first governor of Virginia, Patrick Henry argued that it (the Constitution) gave the federal government too much control at the detriment of the states; they rejected this very Constitution. They also felt that the Constitution lacked protection for people’s individual rights (Coates, 223). James Madison drafted the Bills of Rights, which was presented to Congress in 1789. The Bill contained ten amendments to the United States. The First Amendment guaranteed free speech, and citizens could express themselves without thinking about punishment for the first time in the history of the United States; speech was an essential aspect of freedom of expression. People were allowed the right to say whatever they liked, whenever they liked, and in the way they saw fit.
However, as time went by, this freedom was excused for the right to abuse others; in fact, many believed that as long as the First Amendment remained unchanged, they were allowed to attack and use pejorative and discriminatory language with reference to other people and groups. Yes, the First Amendment guarantees this. But as long as the ideas and information expressed in this case threaten the fabric that unites society, this freedom should perhaps be tamed. This idea was established in the 1919 Schenck v. the United States U.S. Supreme Court Case. In Schenck v. the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that if the words spoken or printed posed a “clear and present danger,” the freedom of expression rights guaranteed in the Constitution could be limited. In other words, this meant that people could be held accountable for what they said, either publicly or on social media. An excellent example that fits this case is encouraging other people to commit hate crimes, a prevalent instance with white supremacists.
In addition to harming and presenting danger, hate speech limits the democratic process; it threatens the communitarian view of a healthy democracy and societal pursuit of common purpose. In other words, hate speech drives people to pursue different adverse objectives at the expense of reason and democracy. It limits the very concept of freedom, as humans are only free when their actions are regulated by reason. This idea is prevalent in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason (1788). Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) believed that a society governed by practical reason decides the best way to act (Hill 67). In most cases, people with practical reasons guide their conduct and act according to the conception of the law.
Hate speech, even though it is a concept protected by the Constitution, practicality defames the practicality and concept of freedom. Practical reason, in this case, should guide individuals to understand the difference between expression and abuse (Neblo 925). Hate speech may serve to undermine the political status of some people. Equal political standing is a necessary condition of democratic policy-making, and while this may be true, the legitimacy of this process may be undermined by hate speech. This concept is motivated by the assumption that the Legitimacy Claim underscores both that democratic legitimacy presupposes a degree of relationship equality in the political sphere between people and that hateful acts of speech will erode those relationships in some circumstances.
The First Amendment is of critical importance in the democratic United States. Here, racism, hate speech, and offensive speeches are protected and viewed as individual rights. The First Amendment was established to encourage the free exchange of ideas and to create a form of redress of people against their government. Likewise, this amendment was structured to protect unpopular forms of speech. However, when these speeches threaten the nature and codes that govern society, they should be deterred. Protecting hate speech in the excuse of providing citizens with freedom undermines the very concept of freedom. It is ironic when the Constitution guarantees freedom and similarly limits it in the pretense of allowing free speech. More importantly, if an idea or a piece of writings threatens other people’s survival, then the idea or the writing should not be protected as free speech. American unity should always come first as dangers tend to occur when a nation forgets that it is one country. Therefore, hate speech should not be protected. More so, there ought to be deterrent measures that discourage individuals from emitting utterances that threaten American unity.
Coates, IV, John C. “Corporate Speech and The First Amendment: History, Data, And Implications.” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2015, p. 223.
Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 91 S. Ct. 1780, 29 L. Ed. 2d 284 (1971).
Hill, Thomas E. “Dignity and Practical Reason in Kant’s Moral Theory.” 1992, p. 67.
Neblo, Michael A. “Impassioned Democracy: The Roles of Emotion in Deliberative Theory.” American Political Science Review, vol. 114, no. 3, 2020, pp. 923-927.
Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 39 S. Ct. 247, 63 L. Ed. 470 (1919).