UHCL The Signal
The official student newspaper of the University of Houston-Clear Lake

Why hate speech must be defended for the sake of America


One of the most popular amendments to the U.S. Constitution is the first one that allows American citizens the right to freedom of speech. Protecting free speech means supporting everyone’s right to speak freely – even if it is as abhorrent as hate speech.

When the Founding Fathers wrote the “Bill of Rights,” freedom of speech was a way to ensure citizens would be able to air their grievances publically without fear of conviction. Throughout the years, freedom of speech has evolved from libel laws to burning the American flag.

In theory, freedom of speech is a grand idea assuring the government cannot tell citizens what they can or cannot say. Newspapers can print editorials and commentaries, the students of Parkland, Florida, can create a dialogue to discuss gun laws, and from the comfort of their couch social media users can tweet judgments of elected officials without fear of governmental threats or seditious imprisonment. It is a beautiful right guaranteed by the Constitution. But like many beautiful things, freedom of speech has a dark side.

Even though current generations were raised to value political correctness, hate speech has become popular again. The range of what is hate speech is vast. An easy way of describing hate speech is any form of speech that dehumanizes a person or a group based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, ideology or gender. This includes slurs, abusive epithets and even supremacy pamphlets left on artwork at a university and, whether one disagrees, hate speech is – and should be – considered protected under the First Amendment.

Even though someone can despise hate speech and want it to be banned and removed from every aspect of American life, he or she needs to realize that hate speech is a necessary evil for a healthy democratic society. If “hate” speech was banned in America, the effects would be catastrophic because what is considered hate speech would change depending on the person who hears it.

It can be difficult to defend something that is created out of ignorance, misunderstanding or hate, but hate speech must be defended. If people want newspapers to continue to report the news or if people want to discuss politics or even if people want to use social media to start a movement, they need to have protections to do so.

Like everyone, the Founding Fathers were imperfect – pro-slavery and anti-female rights – but they knew they had to word the Constitution wisely if they wanted it to carry on for hundreds of years. By using a vague, but a powerful statement in the First Amendment, they were able to make sure that freedom of speech could protect Americans in 2018 and beyond. When people start deciding when they want freedom of speech to apply to them, the amendment’s power dies.

One of the best aspects of freedom of speech is that it applies to everyone, not just to Democrats or Republicans. Those who praise athletes taking a knee for what they believe in, typically are quick to condemn the Tomi Lahrens of America for being “privileged racists” and vice-versa. And for a president who hates news media, he has no issue with using media when it suits him. People cannot have it both ways – they cannot say what they want to and then demand someone else should be quiet. For every Ben Bradlee in America, there is an Archie Bunker. If the Bradlees want to be able to print the truth about the government, they need to understand the Bunkers have to be given just as much right to voice their version of the truth and vice-versa.

Hate speech is meant to rile individuals or a group up, and the most powerful thing someone can do is to be the bigger person, walk away and accept that people have the right to say what they want to. Freedom of speech, however, does not mean there are no consequences to words or actions. Take Paula Deen, for example, she lost her status as a cooking icon, or Mel Gibson, who was once celebrated and now a punchline on “South Park.” There are a few limited exceptions to the freedom of speech, like saying things to incur violence or child pornography.

We the people depend on the rights guaranteed to us by the First Amendment to ensure that we have the safety that what we say towards an individual or a group will not land them in jail. As the French writer Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It can be hard to see people pollute the beauty of freedom of speech with vitriolic words and actions, but no one said being an American was easy. Hate speech should not be accepted, but it needs to be protected.