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Is Hate Speech Free Speech?

By Tyler Bauer

Last week, I asked my Twitter followers if there were any topics they’d like me to cover in my blogs. Ethan Storms gave me the idea for this blog.

As luck would have it, I saw a relevant example of hate speech around the same time. A Charlie Hebdo cartoon – which was later revealed to be fake – depicted the French soccer team as monkeys. The combination of Ethan’s suggestion and the fake Charlie Hebdo cartoon present the perfect opportunity to think about hate speech.

What is hate speech?

Although we’ve probably all heard the term, there is no established, legally-recognized definition of “hate speech.” It is generally understood to mean speech that refers to an individual or group in a negative way based upon the individual or group’s characteristics, such as race, religion, gender, etc. Racism, sexism, and homophobia – among other things – fall into the category of hate speech.

What to do About Hate Speech

Nobody likes being insulted. Nobody likes racism, sexism, or anything like that. We really should strive to treat each other as we would want ourselves to be treated. I think all of that is pretty obvious and agreeable. That being said, I think hate speech should be protected as free speech.

An important reason why I support the protection of hate speech is that hate speech has no clear definition. Does hate speech have to be racist, sexist, etc., or can it be any form of speech I find offensive? If hate speech is any form of speech I find offensive, I could claim opposing political views are hate speech and use this reasoning to censor someone. Until we have a definition of what constitutes hate speech, banning hate speech could mean banning anything and everything.

Furthermore, you never know when someone will take offense to what you say. To quote Jimmy Carr, one of my favorite comedians, “Offense is taken, not given. That’s not just an expression. That’s how it tends to work.” (He says this at the beginning of the video, but I recommend watching the full video because he’s hilarious. His act isn’t exactly family-friendly, by the way.). So, unless you want to live in constant fear of offending someone and being censored, you shouldn’t support censoring hate speech in any way.

I’ve written before that we don’t have the First Amendment to talk about the weather. We have it to talk about controversial topics. I wholeheartedly agree that hate speech of any form is bad. We should do our best to be nice to one another. However, I support protecting hate speech because it is best to discuss hateful ideas and thoughts openly. For example, if we were unable to discuss the Holocaust because its discussion may be deemed offensive by Jews, we wouldn’t have as great of an understanding of why the Holocaust was so terrible.

Similarly, we shouldn’t ban Nazis, Communists, or any other group that spews hate speech from running for political office. Of course, I don’t want anyone with those ideas running for office or holding office. However, I’d much rather be able to discuss and debate these ideologies rather than force them underground. It’d be better to publicly expose the faults of these ideologies than to allow them to go unquestioned because we can’t talk about them.

We should try our best to avoid hate speech and be nice to each other, but that doesn’t mean we should start censoring people because what they say might be hateful.

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