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On The Issue Of Hate Speech

1527 words - 7 pages

Almost all Americans today have heard of the First Amendment and its protection of free speech. This protection allows a free exchange of ideas among the members of society. Without it, Americans would not be able to voice their criticisms against anything without having a fear of being arrested. However, in the past, the government has limited this fundamental right several times. During World War I, Charles Schenck passed out fliers criticizing the national draft. He was arrested, and the Supreme Court decided that his arrest was acceptable because his actions posed 'clear and present danger'. Other limits exist on libel and slander. Now, with these limits enacted in the past, and with a growing multicultural society in America, a debate on a certain issue has slowly increased. Should hate speech be protected as free speech, or should it be suppressed?
Hate speech is defined as "an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like" (“Hate Speech Law & Legal Definition” definitions.uslegal.com). Throughout history, American society has been intertwined with such speech directed towards several groups, such as African Americans, Asians, and other immigrant groups. In 1969, Clarence Brandenburg, a leader of the KKK in Ohio, was arrested under Ohio law for uttering hate speech and committing hateful actions. However, the Supreme Court, in a landmark decision named Brandenburg v. Ohio, upheld Brandenburg's right to free speech ("Brandenburg v. Ohio." kids.laws.com) In doing so, the Supreme Court avoided the restriction of hate speech in society. The judges made a wise decision, since the limitation of hate speech carries with it several complications which endanger the right of free speech for those who use it responsibly.
One of the many problems that restrictions on hate speech would create is the issue of how a line, which would separate appropriate and hate speech, should be drawn. Ultimately, the line would distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable use of First Amendment rights. In the article of Jonathan Rauch, the writer of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, questions are posed on such a line, such as, "Who determines trigger thresholds for actionable speech, and on what basis?" (Rauch (Brookings), Jonathan. Washingtonpost.com) This shows how drawing a fair and balanced line would be a futile task. Determining the threshold of acceptable free speech would be entirely subjective, since a single person's opinion on what is acceptable and what is hateful varies greatly among society. In another aspect of free speech, the Supreme Court defended a man who was arrested for lying about receiving a Medal of Honor. According to the justices, the Stolen Valor Act "was overly broad and posed a threat to First Amendment rights" (Dao, James Washingtonpost.com). Legislators who thought the Stolen Valor Act’s definitions...

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