As a kid we were all taught a lesson; if you have nothing nice to say don’t say it at all. Now as adults we tend to say things without prior thinking about it and in some cases we know exactly what we’re saying it; we aim to offend. People use our first amendment as a cloak which covers them and allows them to say what they please, from homosexaul get-ups to racist slurs. What we fail to understand is that freedom of speech was intended to protect “polite” speech. Social media and religion create a platform for hate speech; it allows the perpetrator to hide behind their beliefs or the screen of their device. The million dollar question here is: should hate speech be discouraged? The answer is: of course!
There is a very big difference between hate speech and properly expressing your personal opinion on an open topic. In the article “Criticism of Homosexuality Is Not Wrong” Mr. Trent Lott expressed his view of homosexuality in the most appropriate way, “You should still love that person. You should not try to mistreat them or treat them as outcasts. You should try to show them a way to deal with that problem, just like alcohol … or sex addiction … or kleptomaniacs. There are all kinds of problems, addictions, difficulties, experiences of things that are wrong, but you should try to work with that person to learn to control that problem.” (Greenhut 2). While some people might still be offended by his view he stated it in a respectful and proper manner. Expressing an opinion is what the first amendment was intended for, to state your thoughts and claims without fear of being persecuted however it was never intended to fuel cruel expressions that will eventually lead to hateful crime towards a certain community. Nearly 82% of hate speech leads to a hate filled crime.
When I wake up in the morning the very first thing I do is check my phone and scroll through Facebook. Following the terror attacks in Paris, France my newsfeed is full of hateful commentary towards the muslim community. One Facebook user commented on a picture of a muslim holding a sign promoting peace: “ i’m buying a gun and it’s gonna be fully loaded and i’m going to f**k all muslims up” another user posted “Their heads will be swinging on a stick and I will spit on all of their faces #killthemuslims”. The creator of Facebook allows this hashtag to exist and #killthemuslims is actually a worldwide trending topic on most social media sites. As I watch the CNN channel, a news outlet commonly known for supporting hateful speech and personal agendas, interviewer Shawn Hannity had as guests Baltimore city councilman Brandon Scott and CEO of Leaders of a beautiful struggle Adam Jackson. This Interview was following the recent riots at the time in Baltimore, Maryland; Mr Hannity was twisting Mr. Jackson’s statement in the hopes of painting a negative picture of the black community stating that all violence is caused by racism while Mr. Jackson was discussing that you cannot look at one small appendage without first looking at the whole root of the problem. Mr Hannity then preceded to take them off the show without completing the interview.
Hate speech is a unique form of expression and have a social undertone in their aim. Seduced by a Norman Rockwell vision of the First Amendment, Americans too often forget that freedom of expression was a controversial notion for most of human history not because our ancestors were benighted fools but because they recognized that speech is often pernicious (Sullum 1). In history classes we are taught that classical liberals that opposed censorship of the first amendment did not claim that all speech was equally worthwhile. Religion, while unintentional, is the fuel that drives the car when it come to hate speech. Speaking from a literary standpoint the bible promotes hate against homosexuality, racial preference and slavery. When taken out of context it leads to a deadly concoction of self-righteousness and distaste for things that don’t fit within the holy views of the bible.
In my most recent literary endeavour I stumbled upon one of the best books I have read in a long time. In Michael Herz and Peter Molnars The Content and Context of Hate Speech: Rethinking Regulation and Responses they introduce ideas and position from authors all over the world to answer one question: is hate speech in fact so dangerous or harmful to vulnerable minorities or communities as to justify a lower standard of constitutional protection? Actual instigations to actual hate crimes must be criminalized, but otherwise offensive speech should be handled by encouraging further dialogue (Molnar-Herz 12). Let us go back to the year 1933 when the largest mass genocide in history occurred. Those who followed Adolf Hitler were fueled by powerful hate speech the dictator gave on a daily basis stating that “…the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jews”. Hitler’s hatred of the jewish community led to the death of more than 6 million jews. In Florida in the year 1998 nine students were expelled from school for creating a pamphlet that ridiculed the african race and their most serious diseases. The pamphlet had drawings that depicted rape, a head with a bloody fork sticking out of it, and the school’s black principal, Timothy Dawson, impaled on a dart board. The students were then charged with a third degree felony. It’s harder to fathom why the school district defended his decision to throw the kids in jail. “The arrests were made, and we stand by that decision,” said Henry Fraind, deputy superintendent for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “They do not have the right to incite the feelings of outward racism.” (Sellum 2)
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information (Molnar-Herz 27). The first amendment was intended for citizens to state their thoughts and claims without fear of being persecuted; however when you use your opinions and thoughts to persecute a community then that right is being abused. Hate speech has dire consequences which can lead to suicide and go as far as to fuel the genocide of an entire race. Human nature is to judge, there’s no question about that but with that judgement comes a price. The question is are we willing to pay it?
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