Hate Speech Actually IS Protected By The Constitution
Start writing a post
Politics and Activism

Yes, Hate Speech Actually IS Protected By The Constitution

Yes, hate speech is legal – though that doesn't mean it's right.

553
Protestors march in the 2017 Women's March On Washington

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution is perhaps the amendment that most asserts America's role as the leader of the free world. It's what gives all citizens the right to freedom of expression, no matter what one chooses to express.

There are some limits to this amendment, however, meaning there are some types of speech that the government can actually regulate. Take "fighting words," for example fighting words are words or phrases that create chaos and harm, such as shouting "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater.

The shout would create mass chaos as people run outside and potential harm as people trample and knock each other down. There are other instances in which certain forms of speech can be regulated and banned, such as when speech challenges the military and harms the war effort (Espionage Act of 1917), or when it advocates for imminent lawless action, decided by the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969. But by and large, Americans are mostly free to engage in whatever verbal or nonverbal speech they desire.

Many citizens argue that there is another type of speech that is unprotected by the First Amendment and subject to regulation: hate speech. Hate speech, while having no official legal definition, is generally understood as both verbal and nonverbal communication that is typically targeted at racial, religious, or ethnic groups, but can include marginalized people such as women, LGBT+, handicapped individuals, etc.

Knowing this, many believe that speech so vile and abhorrent would never be protected by the Constitution, like many college campuses in the late 1900s, which took it upon themselves to create hate speech regulation and alter their student codes to include punishment for such language. After all, hate crimes are punished, so why not hate speech?

But the reality is that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled time and time again in their precedent that hate speech, while detestable, is protected under the First Amendment just like any other form of speech. The Court has not only protected hateful language from outright bans but from lesser restrictions as well, such as codes on college campuses.

Take, for example, the Supreme Court's ruling in Terminiello v. Chicago in 1949, in which Terminiello, a Catholic priest, gave a speech in Chicago that criticized various political and racial groups, such as liberals and Jews. His speech resulted in a violent protest, and the priest was later arrested and convicted of breaching the peace. However, when Terminiello appealed to the Supreme Court, the justices decided Chicago's ordinance violated his right to freedom of speech, citing the First Amendment.

Hateful speech was yet again declared protected under the Constitution later in 1969 when a member of the Ku Klux Klan was arrested after delivering a speech advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government, which violated an Ohio criminal syndicalism law. The law, which criminalized advocating for crime or violence, was declared by the Supreme Court to be infringing upon the KKK member's right to free speech, this time citing both the First and Fourteenth Amendment. No one, including the justices, actually believed the KKK member's speech would actually incite the overthrow of the government; therefore, Ohio's law was too broad.

Thirdly, take the famous case R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul in 1992 when several teenagers burned a wooden cross on the lawn of an African American family. They were later charged under a local bias ordinance which banned the display of symbols that incite anger or alarm on the basis of religion, race, gender, etc.

However, after the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, all eight justices unanimously decided that the ordinance was overly broad and far too content-based, specifically stating that "it prohibits otherwise permitted speech solely on the basis of the subjects the speech addresses." Even though the general public and the government might disapprove of the idea or message expressed, no one can punish or restrict it.

These were just three cases in which the Supreme Court further cemented the idea that hate speech is protected under the First Amendment and is not to be infringed upon – no matter how offensive it is or who is targeted. Even if the speech is considered universally reprehensible – like when the Westboro Baptist Church picketed a Marine soldier's funeral in 2011 – the court's case law surrounding hate speech is clear and unchanged from precedent: it is protected. Individuals and groups have the right to freely express their ideas and beliefs, even if that belief is full of hatred and bias.

It is no doubt upsetting to picture hateful organizations such as the Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK, and others being able to legally march around the country and spew heinous and nasty words at innocent individuals, but their freedom to do so is what makes the United States so different from any other country. They have the freedom to be hateful, just like everyone else has the freedom to be supportive, accepting, and caring – that freedom is what America was built upon and will continue to thrive on.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Featured

High School Soccer is Wildly Important

For Young Players Who Want to Succeed at The Next Level

607
High School Soccer is Wildly Important

Whose choice is it? The parent? The player? There are a number of reasons that a kid may sit out of high school soccer, and to be completely honest; It is a huge mistake. High school soccer is the final piece in the puzzle that takes a player from above average or elite, to college ready by the end of their senior year. Every year thousands of talented athletes don't play for their high schools. Why though?

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

8 Things That Should Be On Everyone's Holiday To-Do List

December is around the corner, are you ready?

3327
8 Things That Should Be On Everyone's Holiday To-Do List
Unsplash.com

As they tend to say, its the most wonderful time of the year! People have begun to compile their Christmas to-do lists in anticipation for the season of sugarplums and gingerbread.

The history of the Christmas to-do lists goes back hundreds of years, almost as old as the holiday itself, however, people tend to fall out of this habit as they get older. This is unfortunate, as the theme of Christmas tradition can add bundles of the spirit of joy to your families.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

Fall Weather Must-Haves

Put away the swim suits and your favorite high-waisted shorts!

5540

The transitional months of fall can cause some fashion headaches as you try to figure out what clothing to keep in your closet. With limited amount of college living space and the ever-unpredictable Nebraska weather, sometimes it’s difficult to know what should be taking up that precious closet space as you transition into winter. As you pack away those tanks and shorts for the chilly months ahead, get your closet ready with a few Fall must-haves. 

Keep Reading... Show less
Content Inspiration

Top 3 Response Articles of This Week

Take a look at the articles driving big conversations on Odyssey.

5801
https://www.theodysseyonline.com/video/we-are-rollins-odyssey
https://www.theodysseyonline.com/video/we-are-rollins-odyssey

At Odyssey, we're on a mission to encourage constructive discourse on the Internet. That's why we created the response button you can find at the bottom of every article.

Keep Reading... Show less
Student Life

Holidays With A Small Family

I wouldn't trade what we have for the world.

7371
Matt Johnsn

When I was a kid I always went to my grandparents house whenever we celebrated any sort of holiday. We were a decently sized family and it was always a blessing to be in their house and surrounded by love during the holiday season. However, that all changed when my grandfather passed away and my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The family then began to drift apart and life went on, and we ended up all celebrating our own holidays with other family members.

Keep Reading... Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments