Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Question of Hate Speech

So today I have a topic that's sure to arouse controversy, depending on your political theories. It is a question defining hate speech and freedom of speech. First, let me begin by sharing a letter written by our Southern Pacific Regional Director, Steve Krantz...

"In today's NY Times, in an article titled "Unlike Others, US Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech," legal scholars recommend that we amend our First Amendment rights when it comes to hate speech. It points out that, for one, Europe ahead of us in this practice.

Several months ago, I witnessed Anne Coulter calling Al Gore a "fag" on Chris Mathews' Hardball on MSNBC without any consequences. I became engraged and wrote a futile letter to MSNBC.

We know that such public displays of bigotry, without consequence, imply tacit acceptance and result in proliferation of escalating violence to our family members.

As the parent of a son who happens to be gay, I would be happy to give up some of my Constitutional rights to see the end of the public demonization of my family. I think it is time for us to stand up and call for the criminalization of hate speech in the United States."

Now, allow me to play Devil's Advocate...

I have traveled and spent a great deal of time in nations that do protect GLBT people, along with other minorities, from hate speech. Indeed, many nations have stricter laws in general regarding libel, slander, and hate speech.

But one thing I think many of us were taught from a young age was the value of the First Amendment, and that our democracy requires allowing even those viewpoints we find disdainful.

The "slippery slope" begins when we find ourselves trying to define hate speech. What is hate speech? It is true that the Supreme Court has told us one can't yell "Fire!" in a theater. And one can not use speech to incite violence. But how concrete is the connection between anti-GLBT speech (like, say, that of the infamous Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church) and someone who actually goes out and gay bashes? Can we legislate acceptable speech from hate speech? If we curtail others' expression, I doubt that we can consider it true freedom of speech anymore. Even as a gay man, I'm not so sure I'm willing to take away others' Constitutional freedoms so easily. Let's not forget that the same First Amendment that allows Nazis to march in the streets also allowed the GLBT movement to express ourselves openly when many tried to silence us.

So, now comes the part where you, the reader, come in! Tell us what you think of this issue! I'm looking forward to reading all of your comments!

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