Should hate speech be free speech?

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Congress shall not restrict freedom of speech.

But we all know that some speech is not protected.  Shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theater is unlawful, right?

At one time speech that presented a “clear and present danger” was unlawful. This changed in 1969.  To break the law today, speech must incite “imminent lawless action.”

Does hate speech incite imminent lawless action? It depends on the words spoken and the situation they are spoken in.  Unless you are urging others to hurt, maim, or kill people (and they are likely to follow your orders), you may just be expressing your first amendment rights.

Hate speech should bear the painful social price of ridicule, mockery, and shame.

If we criminalize hate speech, could we be on a slippery slope to criminalizing critical speech of the government? How long could a democracy last without free speech?

I abhor hate speech. It’s disgusting. It’s hurtful. The world would be better without it.  However, by giving the government power to criminalize hate speech, could we also be giving the government the power to criminalize any speech it dislikes in the future?

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