The freedom of speech is a bedrock of the U.S. government. But recently, this cherished freedom has been under attack.
In an article for The Washington Post, former managing editor of Time Magazine, Richard Stengel, recently declared, “America needs a hate speech law.” Stengel explained his reasoning: “All speech is not equal. And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails.” One commentator called the piece “a chilling call for Americans to give up their free speech.”
Most Americans—as well as our courts—still believe that, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the First Amendment not only protects “free thought for those who agree with us,” but also “freedom for the thought we hate.”
But calls to silence speech are spreading. Not only are there prominent figures like Stengel calling for “hate speech” legislation, but also there’s a growing contingent of college students who believe that “hate speech” should not be protected in law. Public colleges and universities are littered with the language of censorship: “speech zones,” “speech codes,” and “trigger warnings.”
Then there are groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which declares organizations that stray from its far-left ideological agenda to be “hate groups.” They use that scarlet letter to persuade social media platforms, corporations, and government officials to muzzle the speech of others.
If Americans want to see the consequences of stifling the freedom of speech, we need look no further than across the pond to see the alarming effects of “hate speech” legislation.
Europe Is a Case Study in the Failures of “Hate Speech” Laws
Europe is now home to hundreds of “hate speech” laws. And each year the restrictions grow.
“Hate speech” is a vague term not used in any of the major international human rights treaties, nor has it been clearly defined by the European Court of Human Rights or any other international court.
Lawmakers are attempting to criminalize something they can’t even define. And the effects are chilling.
More and more speech is being characterized as “hate speech.” There are even laws on the books that outlaw silent prayer outside of abortion facilities.
Not only that, the laws lead citizens to censor themselves in order to avoid punishment. Ideas are stamped out, and debate is shut down on challenging topics where open dialogue is truly needed (such as immigration, sexuality, gender identity, and religion).
Once the premise that the state can give or take away the right to speak freely is accepted, there is no logical stopping point.
For instance, a 63 year-old Austrian man was charged for the “disparagement of religious symbols” in 2010. The law is generally used against Neo-Nazis who desecrate Jewish graves.
His crime? Yodeling. The man’s Muslim neighbors believed he was attempting to mock the call to prayer.
America Should Learn from Europe’s Mistakes
A recent decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union opens the door to more censorship and more violations of the freedoms of thought and expression in Europe.
If Americans want to retain a functioning democracy, then we should learn from Europe’s slippery slope of “hate speech” laws.
Calls to criminalize or silence speech will only lead to lawmakers trying to discern what is and is not “hateful.” Do we really want government officials dictating which words are illegal because they happen to disapprove?
America does not need a “hate speech” law. The government should not be deciding whether an idea lives or dies. Let’s reject government censorship.
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