Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are two major key rights stated in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. This right, given to us by the “Founding Fathers” of the United States, means to protect the citizens of the country from any laws meant to censor a citizen’s speech, the way they express themselves, among other rights like freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the right to assembly. Yet, as we have entered the twenty-first century, there have been proponents of limiting and/or censoring a specific kind of speech, that being “hate speech”. The basis of hate speech derives from expressions of prejudice against someone, whether it be based on one’s religion, one’s skin color, or of their sexual orientation. For the purposes of this essay, we will argue that censorship of any kind is detrimental to society and can lead to a slippery slope of other ways to silence a person for their words or thoughts.
First, we will look at the text in the First Amendment. It states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”. This amendment protects all citizens of the United States to express themselves freely, without consequence of law.
Now, that of course does not apply to forms of physical violence performed based on a person’s hate toward a certain group. That in and of itself should be punished. But, speech of any kind by a person which may be deemed offensive to a certain group cannot be punished by the United States Government, as that becomes a violation of said person’s First Amendment Right to speak freely. While hate speech can be regarded as a horrible idea, the act of hate speech itself is protected by the First Amendment because, in its purest form, is the expression of an idea.
In June 2017, Justice Samuel Alito wrote about the decision rendered in Matal v. Tam (government barring trademarks that are racially disparaging). Justice Alito stated “Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful, but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought that we hate”. Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, about the same case, that “A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all”.
While I am of the opinion that speech that spews hate of a particular group is disgusting, the speech itself that needs to be protected. No matter how vile the words someone may express, the expression of one’s views and ideas that are ultimately protected, not necessarily their actions. The freedom to express yourself freely is a monumental right in the United States. If any form of expression is deemed detrimental and subject to censorship, it thus becomes easier to explain other forms of expression as detrimental to society, and subject to further censorship.