During the last 30 days, the United States has gone through a material change. Supreme Court decisions, senseless violence, and the reaction to violence has many Americans calling for the regulation of “hate speech” in our criminal codes.
Hate speech is defined in many different ways. However, the most objective definition is speech that attacks a person or group of people based on their behavior or physical attributes. This is included, but not limited to, race, religious affiliation, and sexual behavior.
Over the years, the government and universities have tried to criminalize forms of hate speech.
From 1980 to 1995, over 300 public universities (who accept public money) adopted “speech codes” regulating discriminatory speech by faculty and students. These codes have almost always been struck down in courts, where they were frequently overturned as violations of the First Amendment.
Other forms of governmental restrictions on free speech have been very unsuccessful in this endeavor because of the protections of free speech guaranteed in the 1st Amendment.
However, the courts have not protected all forms of speech. Historically, the Supreme Court has not protected speech that amounts to “fighting words” or speech that poses the imminent threat of violence.
For example, if a Jewish man walked past a New Black Panther Party rally, the speaker could not call on his members to immediately attack the man because of his race. That would be a crime.
However, under current law, a speaker at a KKK rally could deliver a speech on the evils of other people just because of their race or ethnic background. This is offensive to most Americans, including myself, but does not create the imminent threat of violence.
The most recent Supreme Court decision on hate speech was handed down in 2011. In Snyder v. Phelps, the Court heard the well-publicized case concerning the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest with signs found offensive by many Americans.
The issue presented was whether the 1st Amendment protected the expressions written on the signs. In an 8-1 decision the court sided with Phelps, the head of Westboro Baptist Church, thereby confirming the Court’s historically strong protection of individual speech, so long as it doesn’t promote imminent violence.
Well, where are we now with the issue of hate speech?
The first two examples that I gave were fairly obvious examples of speech filled with hatred toward another group of people based on a physical trait that they were born with. However, this year has illustrated cases and situations where the term “hate speech” is not so clearly defined.
Some Americans, who represent a large segment of the quickly changing American culture want to broadly define “hate speech” as anything that remotely touches on the issues of race, religion, or sexual activity. These folks are beginning to use the term “hate speech” to try to silence critics of social policies that have been poorly implemented in a rush to appear politically correct.
This act of silencing critics can be done by enacting criminal statutes and by other ways of shunning people from society.
This poses cultural, religious, and Constitutional problems.
Culturally, Americans will begin to fear speaking out against behavior and governmental policies that they do not agree with. They will also fear speaking out in support of certain governmental policies and the preservation of history in parts of the country.
Mainstream Christian, Jewish, and Islamic leaders, who preach from their respective holy books, will soon be front and center when it comes to allegations of hate speech. They will be accused of violating hate speech codes if they tell their congregations what their religions consider sins.
I have already addressed the criminalization of hate speech. However, the Constitution will not deter progressives who wish to redefine American culture. This is particularly true if the Supreme Court makes a significant progressive shift. This shift is already happening.
America has changed more in the past 30 days than in the last 5 years.
I wonder what God thinks of the changes we have made?