Can We Justify Protecting Hate Speech?

By Alexandra Tirado Oropeza

A pro-rape group organized a protest to further restrain women’s rights in Downtown Tampa. At Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, faculty was unable to censor a faculty member who threatened to rape anti-abortion activists, since they are a public university, they had to stand by government standards. As of today, there are still pro-KKK and Neo-Nazi protests in South Carolina claiming “it’s not about hate, it’s about heritage.”

What all these things have in common, aside for being downright vile, is that they are all protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment, which has been a highly-debated topic throughout the years, protects freedom of speech and freedom of press, along with the right to peacefully assemble .

There seem to be a few misconceptions about the amendment. Now, in reality, the amendment only protects people from the government. This means that people can share their opinions without having the government come after them. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the amendment will shield them from losing their job if they support something inappropriate.

However, “hate speech” is not condemned by the First Amendment. In fact, nowhere in the Constitution of The United States does “hate speech” come up.

In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about the First Amendment in the presidential candidates’ debates. Bernie Sanders and apparently even Hillary Clinton have expressed their desire to change some policies on the Amendment to ban companies from funding political campaigns. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United in their trial against the FEC, deciding that campaign contributions are a form of speech and thus cannot be limited. With the First Amendment being tweaked in current affairs, it seems to me that it would be fair to open the discussion of further guarding people’s rights and include “hate speech” as a minor offense. Even though it seems scary that the government could gain more power over their people, I can’t help but wonder: after seeing all the pro-violence and racist protests that have been going on in the media, is it fair to say this right has been abused?

Yes, the idea of restricting freedom of speech is scary – radical even. But truly, when people protest in favor of something like raping women or reducing African-American rights, isn’t that damaging to somebody else’s rights? Even if a movement is peaceful, nothing comes of it, and being racist or pro-anything is still a constitutional right, it should at least be registered as a threat. I agree that protests are one of the best ways to draw attention to a cause, and they have been helpful in furthering the rights of American people. However, there is a fair distinction between advocating for Gay Marriage or Black Lives Matter and standing in the street chanting about how you don’t believe African Americans should have the same rights based on “heritage.” That sounds to me like an exceptionally poor way of saying you are racist.

Furthermore, protests are meant to advocate for additional rights; not to take somebody else’s rights away. By ignoring these insensible protests, we are giving away the chance of a life without unfair judgements and constant fear protected by law. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be a Jewish person walking by a pro-Neo Nazi protest or find myself walking by a pro-rape one. Freedom of speech is supposed to mean something; it is supposed to entitle the people to enjoy all their rights and fight oppression.

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