The founding fathers of our country strived to shape a nation where all of its inhabitants would be guaranteed certain rights and freedoms. They labored over writing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights therein, expressing the obligation of our government to uphold those freedoms which they believed were essential to maintaining a successful and timeless democracy. As a society, we seem to have grasped the importance of the First Amendment. We comprehend the necessity of such freedoms as religion, assembly, and speech.
However, in the liberal present day, it seems that our spoken word, which we as Americans have the right to express openly, has seemed to grow increasingly hateful towards those who are different from what is perceived as superior, the white, Christian, straight male. Should the government regulate our speech to prevent such hatred and if so at what point? Or is this hateful speech a packaged deal with the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment? Further, what alternatives can society take to put an end to the hateful words we hear and speak everyday, without government intrusion?
Richard Goldstein has spoken of these topics in a piece entitled, “Celebrity Bigots: Why We Need Them and What They Won’t Say”. Hateful speech invades our lives on a daily basis in America, but is this behavior something that the government should act against? In all honesty, arguments addressing our freedom of speech are more or less an open ended, vicious circle. On one hand, our Constitution protects our country’s freedom to speak without reservation; on the other America’s laws restrict discriminating conduct against one another.
The real question is, as we have the freedom to speak, do we also have freedom from hateful speech? Unfortunately, as Richard Goldstein points out, “The First Amendment does not require silence in the face of outrage”-(Goldstein, 2000). The freedom to say as we please, unpleasant as it may be, includes the freedom to speak hurtful or angry words. The idea that our government could step in and control this type of cruel speech without also stepping on our freedom of speech altogether is amusing.
However, should our government restrict the hateful speech that is protected it might lead to more harsh restrictions in the future, depending on what we determine as hateful, an entirely different argument in itself. What some consider hate speech, others do not. How and where would we draw the line? How soon before the government would take away the freedom to talk out against say politicians? While it might be considered hateful to a chosen few, Americans enjoy the right to express their thoughts about others, whether displeasing or not.
It is best then that our government not overstep these boundaries. Rather than taking the freedom from all people, play their role in stopping hateful speech by more assertively prosecuting those who publically speak untruths with crimes such as slander. In spite of this, there does come a point in which action must be taken against such hateful speech. As Goldstein suggested, “some forms (of bigotry) are not acceptable at all”-(2000). How so? There are those situations which have the potential to ruin our country, and to completely deprive certain individuals of any freedoms or rights at all.
Imagine our President announcing over the television waves that in fact, all Muslims played a role in the attack against America in September of 2001. Visualize the vast number of closed-minded Americans that would accept such a statement as true, simply because it came from the mouth of the leader of our nation. Soon, the Muslim people would be singled out every where they went. Some would only cast judgment, but it is likely that at least a few of the believers would act out violently against the race.
If it stops at that point, it would be devastating enough, but what happens should it not, another Holocaust perhaps? In extreme situations such as this, the government must step in to prevent what could easily result from a few hateful words. As established, the freedom to speak hatefully is technically within the limits of the First Amendment. However, those Americans against such unkind behavior do not have to wait for the government to quiet these angry mouths. Goldstein provides that we can individually take a stand against these people who choose to blast their judgments through the media (2000).
Perhaps the simplest method would be to flip the television or radio to a different channel when the ignorant begin to speak hatefully. Or gather to protest networks who allow the disrespectful voices to be heard in the first place. It is imperative that we stop the problem by raising up a new generation that refuses to practice the prejudices so commonly accepted today. Teach our children to live by the golden rule that so many have forgotten from the days of their own youth, treat others as you wish to be treated. Above all, take action and fight against such hate, which goes against every moral our country was built upon.
Perhaps then, the freedom to speak in a hateful manner is protected by our First Amendment rights, but that does not mean that we cannot quiet it without government intrusion on the rights of all Americans. While the government might be able to stop such speech, it is likely that they would indeed squash the right to freedom of speech altogether. Rather than relying on Washington to silence those words that are hateful, as a society we should take action ourselves and individually fight to stop the behavior that could potentially hurt others or even destroy our democratic nation.