The last week has been a tumultuous period for comedians. Kathy Griffin has been under fire for a controversial picture she took part in, one in which she was holding up a head, covered in blood and that of Donald Trump. Bill Maher, the host of a political commentary show, used a racial slur (beginning with an "n") on his show Friday. Both have apologized, but this begs the question: where do we draw the line between free speech and speech worthy of censorship? Did both of these comedians cross that line?
Now, don't get me wrong. I am disgusted by Griffin's photo. It is wrong to suggest violence against a president. I am also disheartened by Bill Maher's usage of a racial slur, one which I don't believe was in his place to say or utilize. However, this isn't about what I believe, but rather what is protected and what isn't by the constitution under "free speech".
So, let's begin with Kathy Griffin.
According to the Supreme Court Case of Brandenburg vs Ohio, the court ruled that speech can be prohibited if it, quote, is "directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and is "likely to incite or produce such action." So, basically, if speech is directed towards something illegal and is likely to incite or lead to said illegal action, that it can be prohibited and isn't protected by the First Amendment.
Does that mean that the censorship of Kathy Griffin's image after it was released is justified? Perhaps. It definitely has judicial precedent.
And now, onto Bill Maher.
On his show, while interviewing a senator by the name of Ben Sasse, the two had a conversation. Bill Maher said he should visit Nebraska more and the senator replied saying that they'd love to have him work in the fields.
And then, Bill Maher responded with the following statement, one brewing in controversy.
"Work in the fields? Senator, I'm a house ****** "
Now, while his statement offended many, many people, is it protected under the First Amendment?
Well, what Bill Maher said is considered a racial slur against Black people. A racial slur is considered a form of hate speech, which is speech that attacks somebody based on their race, color, gender, sexual orientation, etc. And, yes, for the most part, (unless it's encouraging violence), hate speech is protected under the first amendment.
So, it is protected, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it will be accepted.
Where is the line between free speech and speech worthy of censorship drawn? Should speech be banned because it is offensive, or protected because of freedom of speech? Where's that line?
So many lines, and so many words.