Guest Author - Sylvia Cochran
With election fever being caught by media outlets on either side of the aisle, and with misrepresentations running rampant, it is only fair to take a closer look at hate speech. After all, the vilifying of talking heads and political candidates by their opponents is taking especially ugly turns this time around, and lest anyone forget the nooses hanging from a tree which provided the backdrop for more racially charged statements than the OJ trial, a close look at free speech is in fact in demand.
As hard as it is to swallow for those who are disgusted by the degrading rhetoric that seems to make fun of candidates’ religious persuasion, gender, moral standing, and political opinions and purport to report as “fact” baseless allegations levied against radio talk show hosts in an effort to engage in active race baiting, hate speech – which encompasses all of these activities – is indeed protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
It covers the ads run in newspapers, the online blogs which surreptitiously take words out of context, and the hate mongering books that make those who do not toe the party line (of either party) to look like the crew on a ship of fools. Therefore, you can make virtually any statement about anything, no matter how vile, wrong, and baseless, and get away with it.
A number of other countries have sought to curtail hate speech, and Germany as well as Ireland is leading the pack of those societies which are protecting minorities of any kind against defamation. The United States is content with responding to vile outbursts with corresponding vile outbursts and of course litigation, making the leader of the free world look and act more like a petulant child in a sandbox than the country that sets the tone others follow.
Yet is it truly wise to enact certain limitations to the First Amendment, even if they were to curtail the incidents of hate speech? Is there something to be gained from restricting the utterances of a free press (no matter how petty and ridiculous the headlines look at times) when you remember that in a dictatorship the censorship always focused on that which was permitted for the consumption of the general public?
Furthermore, is it not true that one person’s hate speech is simply someone else’s honest to goodness opinion? Where do you draw the line to differentiate bona fide expression of opinion from vile utterances that seek to demean and divide? Is the Christian credo “Jesus is Lord” not hate speech to someone who believes in Allah? Yet at the same time, is it not also part and parcel of the freedom of religion to be able to utter this belief in private as well as in public? Thus, would a tampering with and tempering of that which may be said not have far reaching consequences that not only affect one aspect of life, but a whole lot of others as well?
Last but not least, face it: being offended by something that is said is a personal response that is entirely arbitrary. It might be your PMS, religious upbringing, or shortsighted political leaning that causes your hackles to be raised. Fortunately, freedom of speech (including hate speech) does not equate with freedom from consequences, and thus a vibrant online blogosphere is sending volleys of hatred in all directions and no matter what offends you, you will be sure to find likeminded offended ones who will agree with virtually everything you believe in.
Thus, if you are fond of gay bashing, anti Semitism, race baiting, racism, misogyny, hate men, or find yourself in the Kool-Aid line of either the political right or left, hate speech is your Constitutional right. Have at it (but remember that the rest of us who are watching your rhetoric are not impressed and don’t think you’re cool, smart, or persuasive)!