The Battle for Freedom of Speech Rages On

Sam C. 5/30/17

The Battle against Hate Speech Rages on

It took the first nine states of what would become the United States to ratify our constitution. The first of these 9 states was Delaware, who ratified the constitution on December 10, 1787. Since then, the constitution has become the founding document which outlines very clearly the limits upon the authority of the body which governs us. This constitution has several amendments, or changes to it, that can be added over time when necessary. One such amendment is obviously, the first.

I spell this out so clearly not because I don’t believe that our readers are unaware, but because so many people aren’t. According to the Newseum Institute, 40% of Americans cannot name a single right guaranteed in the First Amendment to the United States constitution. However, thankfully,  according to the same poll, 54% of Americans polled could tell you that we have the right to freedom of speech. A majority, but still, 54%? For those unaware, the first amendment lays out 5 separate freedoms. Those being speech, religion, of the press, petition, and assembly.

One of these, more than all the others, has become a topic of debate. And like most issues, falls along party lines. It’s Interesting commentary on our society that the most fundamental right of being able to say what you want without repercussion is under debate. But the left side of the political aisle is debating this amongst its ranks, and has debated other such fundamental rights, such as the right to bear arms, for a long time. Some branches of the left wing believe that controversial speakers ought be allowed to speak, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren,  but other members of the democratic party are opposed to this. Some such individuals are Howard Dean, a former governor and DNC chair, as well as the mayor of Portland.

Firstly on the mayor of Portland, I know I shouldn’t, but I laughed. Headlines reading “Portland Mayor aims to nix free-speech rally, fears ‘hatred’” make me giggle. Was he not sworn in? Did he forget which country he was elected into? This is America, pal. But what’s even worse with this example is that in the same breath, he said he wants “changes in the political dialogue in this country”! The mayor of Portland desires changes in the political dialogue, but desires to quash pro-free-speech, pro-Trump rallies.

Regarding Howard Dean, his tweet is misinformed on two fronts. Not only is hate speech free speech, but this also Implies that Ann Coulter is hateful. People like Howard Dean forget to look at the judicial history of the United States.  Brandenburg Vs Ohio is pretty much the only Supreme Court case you need to pull out when people repeat the “hate speech is not free speech” mantra. There are other relevant cases, such as Miller Vs. California, Gitlow Vs. New York, Dennis Vs. United States, R.A.V Vs. City of St. Paul. But none relate closest to “hate speech” as Brandenburg Vs. Ohio. The case is very simple, Brandenburg was a KKK leader who held a rally in Ohio. He said some racist, mean, and hateful things, and was arrested under Ohio’s Criminal Syndicalism laws. He appealed to the Supreme Court and they ruled that he had his rights to freedom of speech infringed upon.

The court used this case to outline the times when restricting freedom of speech is acceptable, or rather when speech begins to not become “free speech”. They outlined 2 times when it is appropriate to Infringe upon freedom of speech. 1) “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and 2) “it is likely to incite or produce such action”. Keep in mind 2 things, this case was decided 1969, when Democrats held a majority in the Supreme Court. Why was hate speech not a deciding factor or a contention in their decision? Because hateful speech is fully protected under the first amendment. Given the subjective nature of “hate” and the objective nature of “free”, a free nation should never seek to tell Its constituents they are not allowed to say something because It might hurt someone’s feelings.

That brings me well into the liberal response to freedom of speech. Remember that age old adage of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? The one we were told as children because school-yard bullies made fun of our clothes? Democrats don’t believe that, they believe words can hurt you, and because of that calling them ‘children’ is not only true, but says a lot about their political philosophy.  The argument they give against free speech Is simple to set up and simple to destroy. They believe something to the effect of “Speech that is hateful or derogatory towards women or minorities has negative effects. These negative effects are a drop in their self-esteem and that hateful speech encourages or incites violence against them.”

These arguments are worth discussing. If It’s true that Ann Coulter speaking at Berkeley may cause a minority to die, or several minorities to die, It may be in the interest of the collective safety of Berkeley to cancel Ann Coulter from speaking. If It’s true that Ann Coulter may inspire some marginalized students to end their lives by speaking, It may be worth considering cancelling her speaking event. But do these arguments hold water?

We’ll start with the easier of the two to deconstruct first, that being self-esteem. Firstly, this idea that Ann Coulter or provocative speakers ought be censored because they hurt other people’s feelings begs the questions, since when did your right to feel good about yourself trump my right to speak and think freely? Why Is it morally more important that your self-esteem remains intact than It is that my fundamental right to speak isn’t quashed? We’ll step away from moral arguments for a second and look at some facts and statistics.

This freedom of speech debate is a relatively new one, and while there were historical instances such as Mario Savio at Berkeley, but it’s very present and wide-reaching. Milo Yiannopoulos, for example, had his “Dangerous” tour throughout several different colleges in the United States. In other words, this debate is not isolated or small. And being that that’s true, we ought see some damage to minority self-esteem reflected by statistics or data, but we don’t.

Everyone is aware between the strong connection between a lowered self-esteem and suicide. It is one of the strongest correlations In modern history, and unfortunately for the hate-speech side, the data doesn’t reflect what they claim to be true.

According to the Suicide Prevention Research Center, In 2014, the suicide rate among American Indians/Natives was 17.47, but for whites the suicide rate was 17.61. Here’s the real kicker, though. The suicide rate for black Americans is 5.63, and Hispanics is 5.86. The AFSP confirms this data and makes It clear that White Men make up 7 out of 10 suicides in 2015. In fact, on April 22, 2016 the New-york times reported that “The rate (of suicide) declined for just one racial group: black men. And it declined for only one age group: men and women over 75”. According to the most recent data, black Americans have the lowest suicide rate, and white Americans have the highest, even though hate-speech affects black Americans and Hispanic Americans more than white Americans. Why? Probably because hate speech doesn’t affect their self-esteem. Perhaps It’s controversial of me to say, but something tells me black Americans are resilient enough to not end their lives in mass because Ann Coulter said we should close our borders.

Perhaps this isn’t enough evidence for you. “Sam”, you say, “maybe it doesn’t affect their suicide but It certainly affects their rates of depression!” Wrong, yet again. The most recent data available to us regarding rates of depression amongst race groups comes to us from the National Institute of Mental Health on April 23, 2015.  They found that the group of people most likely to use mental health services in the past year were people who identified as more than one race, but then followed by white adults, after that It was American Indians, and then black Americans. The racial/ethnic groups most likely to be prescribed anti-depression medication was white adults, followed by American Indians, and then black Americans. Using outpatient mental health services was most common for adults reporting more than one race, and then white Americans, then American Indians, then black Americans. Compound this with the fact that 50-75% of people who commit suicide suffer from some form of depression, and of course, white people kill themselves in significantly larger amounts than black Americans do.

Before I move on to the next argument they provide, I’d like to briefly touch on representation. Recently, there has been a discussion on representation in comic books and media. Younger people idolize superheroes because of their radical powers and abilities, but a keener reader may appreciate their outward display of values. Sure, It’s cool that Superhero’s have powers, but In my opinion, It’s more important that Superhero’s reflect values like liberty, justice, truth, and equality. That’s what makes a superhero great! A superhero who constantly lies, murders, and plays favoritism isn’t one anyone should idolize. In other words, clearly it’s not the skin color or gender of comic book characters we idolize, but their ability to enact justice. I don’t like Superman more than Black Panther because Superman is a white man, I like them both because they both reflect values of an upstanding citizen, they are both an Idol, regardless of race. Certainly, representation isn’t just what they want. Could you imagine their outrage If all of the villains were minorities and all the heroes were white men? It’s about being a positive role-model, and being black Isn’t innately a positive trait. You are not inherently a better person, or better role-model because you are black. I bring this up briefly, because the same people who are on the whole “hate-speech” bandwagon, are likely going to be the whole “forced representation in comic books” people. Ask them this question; “If representation matters because a lack of representation affects their self-esteem, why are white people (overrepresented) killing themselves and being diagnosed with depression significantly more than black people (underrepresented) in comic books?”. To this day, I have never received an answer to this conundrum.

The next argument is just a tad contradictory, unless they believe both happen at the same time. Anyway, the second argument against free-speech is something like; “When people use freedom of speech as a tool to spread hate-speech, this incites violence against minorities”.

This argument In theory would be a great one. Basically, what this argument comes down to Is the Brandenburg Vs. Ohio case which I previously mentioned. Remember the two things that have to happen for speech to be curbed? 1) “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and 2) “it is likely to incite or produce such action”. If a speaker meets these requirements, I’m all for taking proper action against these people. But keep in mind, again, the context of Brandenburg Vs. Ohio. The guy was a KKK leader, certainly his speech was hateful, but It didn’t incite imminent lawless action, or harm anyone. Certainly Milo Yiannopoulos, and Ann Coulter don’t come close to Brandenburg, thus their speech should be permitted. Furthermore, where’s the evidence? Is there any evidence that Ann would have got a minority killed? There’s also another question to be asked, to what degree am I responsible for the actions of other people? If It’s clear that my speech didn’t incite imminent lawless action, but was racially charged, or controversial, am I responsible for the actions of the people who listen to me? Certainly not, I didn’t ask or give them reason to do what they did, they acted on their own accord. In addition to that, this focus on “hateful speech” forgets what’s really important, the violence. Is a racist speech which incites violence any worse than a communist speech that Incites violence? Also, victims of violence in this debate have been overwhelmingly pro free-speech, pro-Trump, conservative individuals, some of which have been minorities.

Take for example, this young black man pepper sprayed by anti free-speech protesters at a Patriots Day rally on April 15, 2017


Or for example, this man who was stabbed at the same rally.


The victims of violence in today’s political discourse have been the ones advocating for such discourse, remember that.

To conclude, there are a lot of questions that need to be asked regarding the damage of hate speech, what we can or should do to stop it, and who It affects. But above all, one must not forget the document which allows communists and patriots alike to believe what they do. One must also not forget that as soon as these freedoms and rights are curbed, It is only a matter of time before they are used against you. Once that fundamental, non-exclusive freedom is violated, 1984 will cease to become fiction. As Kyle from South Park put it best “you can’t make a distinction between what is ok to poke fun at and what isn’t. Either it is all OK, or none of It is”.

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