Should hate speech be criminalized?

Juan Casas, Courier Staff

For almost three centuries, freedom of speech has defended the right of the individual to freely express themselves without government intervention.

This allowed the press to remain detached from government overreach, helped protect minority groups from being silenced and has awarded fringed religious groups the protection that they deserve. Overall, freedom of speech has done more good than bad. It has also caused harm because, unfortunately, the right to freedom of speech and the right to freedom of expression are also extended to include individuals who hold racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Semitist and anti-women’s rights views. It is these perspectives that are labelled today as hate speech.

Hate speech is any speech that spreads fear and hate towards any one person or group of people. Dialogue like homosexuality being a sin, immigrants being rapists and drug dealers, African-Americans being more prone to violence and crime are only a few examples of hate speech. Hate speech is currently protected as freedom of speech and the question arises of why. It is, for example, illegal for a person to enter a movie theater and scream that there is a fire when there isn’t one. Yet, it is not illegal for a politician to scream that immigrants are coming to cause harm, even when they are not. This leads to the question of why is one freedom of speech protected but the other is not? The answer might not be as simple as you would think; it is illegal to enter a movie theater and scream fire when there isn’t one because there isn’t one and it is not an opinion. No one can say that it’s their opinion that there is a fire in a movie theater when there isn’t, but it is an opinion to say that homosexuality is a sin even when others say it isn’t. Freedom of speech protects individual opinions, not factual nonsense.

Now, it is an opinion to say that homosexuality is or is not a sin, it is not an opinion to say a building is on fire or that it isn’t, when it is or isn’t. It is an opinion to be sexist, racist or anti-immigrant. Those opinions, although found by the overwhelming majority of society to be incorrect, are nonetheless opinions and that is why hate speech is currently protected as freedom of speech. Now, you may ask why does it matter? Why should fringe groups within society have their opinions, which appear false to the majority, be protected? The answer is complicated but true, because today that might be so, that hate speech is seen as inaccurate, but it wasn’t this way a century ago and might not be in the near future. What I mean is that a century ago, it was a popular sentiment to be racist and sexist. Just like it’s a popular sentiment today to not be sexist or racist. Today, popular sentiment has changed, but it may change again for the worst in the near or distant future. That is why minority opinions are protected, because today the opinions of hate speech might be the minority, but tomorrow it might be the majority. If we allow hate speech in its current form to be criminalized, then what’s stopping other majority groups in the future from doing the same things that we find prevalent today. For example, homosexuality is protected and women have the right to vote, but what if, God forbidding, that would change a century from now? What if a century from now, popular sentiment goes in the opposite direction and homosexuals and women, for example, are alienated and looked down upon and their opinions and views are labeled as hate speech by the majority, then it would be nice to have their hate speech (although today viewed as the opposite) be equally protected under the freedom of speech clause in the U.S Constitution. Overall, it is important that all opinions, no matter how morally wrong or factually incorrect they may be, are protected because morality changes, and so does popular sentiment as we know it, but the right to freely express yourself does not. I do not agree with hate speech, but I do agree that all opinions, no matter how rude or wrong they may appear, ought to be protected. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.