I got to thinking about this concept that is such a deeply ingrained value for America and I began wondering if we’ve gone so far away from its original intent that the end result is this deep divide in our nation, sprinkled with a liberal amount of hate. At what point does Freedom of Speech stop being a good thing.
We’ve all heard about where Freedom of Speech ends and the example of crying “fire” in a crowded theater always comes up. According to the 1919 Supreme Court decision in Schenck v. United States the First Amendment protects freedom of expression but does not protect dangerous speech. The Supreme Court interprets constitutional law, which is subject to the opinions of nine human beings. Nine very flawed human beings, because let’s face it, every human being is flawed.
A recent unanimous ruling solidified the previous understanding that “hate speech” while it may be offensive to some is protected by the First Amendment. The court held that an Asian band could call themselves The Slants. Maybe an earlier case hit closer to home when the Supreme Court ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church could hold up signs at a funeral for a gay soldier that said, Thank God for dead soldiers, but come on people…don’t you think enough is enough. We are one step away from some crazy ass person who thinks that gives them the license to shoot and kill all gay and lesbian soldiers.
Most “hate speech” is not considered “dangerous speech” or its cousin, “fighting words.” This is a very fine line, because we know from all the stories floating around in the press, that “hate speech” most assuredly is the spark to a crowd bathed in gasoline and can incite violence and encourage individuals to move into territory that would not be protected by the First Amendment. Individuals who rally people to act are protected by their hateful words. In fact, they are elected to the most powerful office(s).
This got me to thinking about the power of words from people we admire and respect. Politicians, entertainers and yes writers fall into that category. Crap. Now I have to be responsible when I weave my stories. I admit it. I hate child molesters, slave traders, and rapists and I might have suggested (more than once in my stories) that violence against these individuals or groups is justified. I suppose that could be considered “hate speech”.
I guess I have “yes but” rules. Hate speech against my community (lesbian+ not listing all the letters because I’ll probably miss some), persons with disabilities, people of color, etc not ok in my humble opinion and should be reigned in, but hate speech against those who harm others…I’m okay with that! I suppose I’m just like those religious fanatics who seem to pick and choose the rules to live by. And yet it does give me pause at times to consider how strong is my prose and does it begin to dance heavily on that fine line?
Nah…in the immortal words of one of my favorite characters in Asset Management and the new book coming out titled, The Organization, “Perfect. I’d love to spill a little blood. Can we shoot him now?” Ronda asked. I’m not planning to change a thing.
If you want to see how I play fast and loose with Freedom of Speech in my books…you know the drill, click on one of the links below.
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3 thoughts on “Freedom of Speech”
I just try to fall back on what I was taught growing up, ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’. I must admit that I slip every once in a while and it is usually a push back on what someone else said that I find offensive. But that is only stirring the pot and really isn’t a solution, so I will make more of an effort to refrain from that.
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You know, Annette, I think you hit the nail on the head with this post. There is a difference between free speech and hate speech – it’s the difference between the ability to speak one’s mind and inciting the brutalization of the innocent. In a lot of my books, my protagonists are violent, and they have particular targets for their weapons. Most of them are the kind of baddies who cause pain to innocent people, and honestly, I can’t say I disagree with the sentiment.
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Yes, and other countries seem to understand this…it’s really not that hard to grasp!
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