Free speech vs. hate speech

Earlier this month, Charlottesville, Virginia, was swarmed by Nazis and white nationalists staging a three-day rally ending in the murder of a counter protestor and grave injuries to over a dozen others in a domestic terrorist attack when a rally-goer drove a van into a crowd of people.

There were already calls to ban Nazi and white supremacist ideas, beliefs, symbols and speech, and the tragedy in Virginia amplified them. However, when the idea of banning or persecuting these groups is brought up, someone always brings up the First Amendment as a counter argument, arguing hate speech is protected by the constitution and landmark Supreme Court cases, whether we like it or not.

The thing is, yes, hate speech is legally protected, but it shouldn’t be.

No one appreciates freedom of speech and the First Amendment more than a journalist. The freedom to write, publish, broadcast and say what we want is paramount to our industry and our profession, and censorship is the enemy of every member of the press, on a professional level if not a personal one.

That said, I could still, as a journalist, wholeheartedly believe in the criminalization of hate speech and feel no personal conflict. I do not see it as censorship — I see it as protection for the groups that hate speech like the kind on display in Charlottesville targets and marginalizes

Founded Oct. 31, 1941 by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Freedom House is a non-governmental organization that “conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights.” On their official website, they rate the nations of the world on a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 being the least free and 100 being the most free. Germany is rated as 95 on this scale, while the United States is given a score of 90.

This in mind, those who claim censoring or banning hateful fringe groups jeopardizes the rights of the general public, have little to stand on considering Germany completely banned Nazi ideas and symbols after World War II and has yet to become an Orwellian dystopia. Actually ranking higher than the ol’ Land of the Free on the freedom scale.

Still, some might say that hate speech legislation might set the precedent of labeling any contradicting opinion as a ‘hate group’, pointing towards groups like BlackLivesMatter and Antifa as likely targets for politicians to set their sights on.

Except that won’t happen. It just won’t. There isn’t a single ideology in America, or in the entire world — left wing, right wing or otherwise — that is as uniquely and intrinsically hateful and dangerous as Nazism. Whenever someone speaks the words or raises the flag of this ideology, they carry the baggage of over six million civilian deaths.

And, as evidenced by Charlottesville, they almost always create new ones: Nazi ideas never stay ideas for long when their entire mission statement is ‘racial purification’. Such an extreme and extraneous problem deserves — necessitates — an equally extraneous solution, such as a law against it modeled after Germany’s.

A law banning Nazi ideals, or any other type of anti hate crime legislation, would be a justified nuclear option to prevent the rise of fascism. And if it put into place, aside from a few absolute extremists, no one is seriously going to attempt to use a hate speech ban to ban anyone they disagree with. To compare objective and visceral hatred like the kind espoused in Charlottesville to any other position you don’t agree with is a false equivalency in the worst way. Say what you will about [insert group name here], but until they start calling for the blood of the innocent, they are not a hate group.

And even in the event that someone did attempt to brand their political opponents as a ‘hate group’, the Supreme Court can always step in and rule against them, and prevent any sort of dangerous precedent from arising. If our Supreme Court jurors are just, they will be able to categorically separate evils like Nazism from discordant, but perfectly valid, ideas and movements on both sides of the aisle.

One might say that ‘evil’ is a subjective term, and that ‘well Nazis are evil to us but hey maybe we’re evil to them so we can’t go throwing the word evil around’. And that’s true, evil is not absolute. But if you look at white nationalists, white supremacists and Nazis, groups that think billions of people worldwide are ‘inferior’ and should die or be forcibly relocated simply because of their birth, and you are not willing to call them evil, you need to rethink your definition of the word.

The Supreme Court ruled obscenity and pornography cases on a ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ basis for decades. And as Americans, evil should also be something we know – and are willing to call out – when we see it.