Scoot: Why we should celebrate hate speech

October 19, 2017 - 11:25 am

It is always a challenge when we are faced with the idea of supporting speech we hate.  Understanding the far-reaching protection of the First Amendment is easy when you agree with the message, but standing up for the First Amendment can be challenging if it’s a message you hate.

The University of Florida and local police in Gainesville, FL have implemented an expansive contingency plan to maintain peaceful protests as white supremacist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak on campus this afternoon.  The university reports that over $500,000 has been spent on law enforcement and logistics designed to keep conflicting protests separated.  Not separating the competing protests was determined to have led to the violence that erupted during protests in Charlottesville, VA.

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in advance of Spencer’s appearance at the University of Florida.

Richard Spencer is a white supremacist and President of the National Policy Institute.  That’s an organization with a title that suggests concern for America; but for many Americans, it is a hateful group.  Spencer has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” and is responsible contributing to the creation of the term “alt-right.”

Richard Spencer has publically said that he embraces “white privilege” to the point of enthusiastically wallowing in the advantage of being white.  The list of Spencer’s comments that ignore the notion of equality is endless.

There are those who believe that hate speech should be suppressed for the good of the country.  I believe that efforts to silence the speech many define as hate speech is a dangerous affront to our most basic constitutional right – freedom of speech. 

As difficult as it is to support hate speech – from any group – we should see this as a liberating moment that should not be simply tolerated – this moment should be celebrated.  The people who react with emotion rather than a sense of the rule of law believe they are standing up for what is good and right, but in reality, they are encouraging the idea of government controlling speech.

To be clear, hate speech that includes inciting violence or slander is not speech that should be protected, but speech that you hate for whatever reason must be protected to preserve the rights we all have to freedom of speech.

There were times under past administrations, most recently the Obama Administration, and now under the Trump Administration of veiled efforts to control the media.  As much as one side loathes the negative press about President Trump, support for curtailing that would also have applied to The Fox News Channel and all of the conservative radio talk show hosts across the country during the Obama Administration. The freedom right-leaning media had to bash President Obama is the same freedom enjoyed by the media today.  To take one away the other would be taken away as well.

The best defense against the message of any hate speech is the power to reject the hateful message.  That is a unique power that lies within each of us, as individuals; and our ability to reject hateful messages should be emphasized over the temptation to silence the speech we consider hateful.

One of the reasons the topic of NFL players kneeling in protest during the National Anthem was such a hot-button issue was a widespread lack of understanding of, and appreciation for, the First Amendment.  The First Amendment does not only protect your speech – it protects everyone’s speech and the idea of government controlling messages is far more threatening to our society than the hateful messages that are being protected.

We are too prone to want to ban this or ban that – even though each of us individually – and all of us collectively – have the power to decide how we interpret and react to hateful speech.

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