Hate Speech (Essay Sample)
Essay prompt: Please write an essay in which you take a side on the following legal case.
In general, do you think the kind of “speech” or hate speech described in the above
article really does deserve 1st amendment protection, should hate speech be banned in
the US, or should it be regulated, or is hate speech just harmless?
Should hate speech be banned in the US, or should it be regulated, or is hate speech just harmless?
Freedom of speech and expression are undeniably pillars of human rights and the cornerstones of every democratic society. These freedoms are the foundations of other basic human rights such as freedom of religion, freedom to peaceful assembly and participating in public affairs. In the US, freedom of speech is enshrined in the First Amendment, which means that every American has a right to express his/her opinions and beliefs without censorship or punishment by the government. However, although the First Amendment was well intended, recent events have shown that the right of expression can sometimes be abused and used as an outlet of hate speech. One such incidence that demonstrates how freedom of expression can border on hate speech is the Snyder v. Phelps case. In this case the US Supreme Court in an 8-1 majority ruling protected the actions of Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), which was known for picketing at military funerals. During the funeral of Corporal Matthew Snyder the WBC picketed with signs that the family of the deceased considered offensive and humiliating. The court’s decision to protect such actions has since elicited a debate as to what should be done to hate speech. Even as the debate continues, I think hate speech should be regulated so as to stop or protect hateful speech that can cause serious emotional and psychological harm or lead to violence.
Regulating hate speech is the right thing to do because even the First Amendment does not provide absolute protection to everything that people say. In this regard, there are certain forms of unprotected speech contained in the amendment such as incitement to imminent lawless action; speech that threatens deadly body harm and speech that leads to immediate violence. Since these exceptions have been misinterpreted or circumvented in the past, Congress should make laws that strengthen them. In this way, people’s right to freedom of expression will be upheld but at the same time protect the public from emotional and psychological trauma associated with hate speech, especially when the hateful speech is directed towards an individual or family as was the case in Snyder v. Phelps.
Also, as rightly noted by some pundits, the American society already has many regulations limiting different types of speech. For instance, the three levels of government have laws regulating advertising, libel, obscenity, slander and inciting lawlessness (Nielsen par.1). With so many restrictions on speech and expression already in place, there will be no danger in extending the limitation to include all forms of harmful hate speech. It is interesting that despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that exonerated the WBC of any wrong doing, Congress went ahead to pass the Honoring America’s Veteran’s Act in 2011, which bans any protests within a radius of 300-500 feet from veterans’ funerals (Nielsen par.5). Instead of establishing such laws that protect certain groups against hate speech, it would be ideal for Congress to pass one comprehensive law that prohibits all forms of harmful hate speech. Otherwise, Congress might find itself in a situation when it is forced to pass several laws to protect certain groups when a certain incidence occurs, which can be cumbersome and may lead to confusion.
Hate speech also needs to be regulated because when the First Amendment was being designed and passed society was simple. The framers of the First Amendment believed that society would obey its spirit, which is “truth will always prevail.” However, times have since changed partly owing to the advent of the digital media and social media. In the era of social media the mantra of “truth will always prevail,” doesn’t seem to work. Many ill-intended people are taking advantage of the border-less space of the internet to spread rumors, lies and hateful speech. As was evident in the lead up to the 2016 US presidential election some people and adversary nations are taking advantage of this loophole and the protection of the First Amendment to spread lies, hence creating chaos in society (Stengel par.6). To avoid such incidences from recurring it is important to revise hate speech laws to match the changing times.
Regulating hate speech in the US will equally go a long way towards protecting the interests of minority groups. For many decades, the First Amendment has been used as a scapegoat to undermine the rights and freedoms of black people, women and the LGBTQ community (Nielsen par.6). For instance, American courts have in the past freed members of the infamous Ku Klux Klan (KKK) who openly violated the rights of black people on the account of the First Amendment. If is true that the amendment allows certain members of society to be discriminated then all other limitations of speech that protect other groups should be lifted so as to create a fair playing grounding. Alternatively, minority groups should also be protected against hate speech by special laws, which is a better choice compared to the repealing of all the existing limitations.
Nevertheless, some people are against the idea of banning or regulating any form of hate speech. The opponents say that the First Amendment is not outdated and it is working as was intended by the framers. They argue that the First Amendment was designed to protect everyone both the weak and strong as well as conservatives and liberals. They add that just because freedom of speech seems to go against some people sometimes does not mean that it should be amended to suit the desires of such people who are on the receiving end (Cole par.10). Others contend that hate speech is harmless and for this reason it should not be banned or regulated. It is also argued that hate is a fundamental right contained in the constitution. Therefore opponents believe that banning or regulating hate speech will be tantamount to infringing people’s basic right. Some pundits add that allowing for the regulation of hate speech will create room for tyranny as some government officials may use this as an avenue to curtail people’s freedom of speech (Chemerinsky par.8).
While some of the aforementions assertions of the opponents may be valid, the focus should be on the potential harm of hate speech. To this end, the truth is that hate speech can be harmful. In particular, hate that is directed towards individuals as that described in the Snyder v. Phelps case has many negative effects. Studies have co
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