What exactly constitutes hate speech? I’ve wondered about this for several years and speaking with friends and colleagues, I can’t come up with a specific definition. If someone offends me in any way, is that hate speech? If I wrote a tweet about some religious group or political group that I dislike, is that hate speech?
I bring this up because I notice a lot of discussion from people I follow on Twitter in Great Britain. Britons have no guarantee of free speech as we do in the United States. In fact, I don’t know of any other country, western or not, that have the guarantee that we have here.
That doesn’t mean that we in the U.S. are without flaw. There are many college campuses that limit what may be said. These are public schools funded by taxpayer money. Some have what are known as Free Speech Zones on campus where people can speak about what they want, but only if they get permission from the administration in advance.
Slowly, there’s been a backlash against these rules. Some (very few), have rescinded these oppressive rules. It’s a start.
Let’s think about thug what it may mean if there were ever a hate speech law enacted by our government. Again I ask, what would constitute hate speech? Could I criticize another person or group based on their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation? Probably not. What about religion? May I critique any and all religions as an atheist?
Think about it because this is the classic slippery slope. Any law passed would have to be very narrow and specific based on our Constitution, and even then would probably be nullified by our Supreme Court.
It’s a bit scary to consider when we find in polls that as many as 53% of current university students value diversity over free speech. That doesn’t bode well for future generations.
I have some hope though that these young people will eventually discover the other side in that they too, without having the right to speak freely on topics that may be offensive to others, they too could be labeled, and possibly prosecuted, for hate speech.
I always go back to what Justice Brandeis wrote in a Harpers Weekly article in 1913:
“sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”
I believe this holds true today. We need more sunlight, not more laws.