Curbing Free Speech Not the Answer to Political Violence

 

For the past several weeks I have watched with unease as those opposed to Donald Trump have tried to stop him from talking. Others have distorted his words and misrepresented his speeches, labeling them divisive and hateful.

His opponents are fond of calling Trump’s comments, “hate speech,” when in fact, so-called “hate speech” is not even defined in US law.

Let me be clear. I am not advocating for Donald Trump. I am advocating for free speech.

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However, the negative, knee-jerk reaction, primarily on the left side of the political spectrum, to Trump’s appeals for a moratorium on immigrants from Islamic nations and his plans to build a big wall along our southern border, have resulted in vociferous anti-Trump demonstrations at the candidate’s rallies and campaign functions. They shout that his words are hate speech.

But even the American Civil Liberties Union, which is about as left-wing as you can get in this country, insists there is no such thing as “hate speech.” There is, says the ACLU, only “free speech.”

Here is what the ACLU says about what it calls “hateful speech:”

“The ACLU has often been at the center of controversy for defending the free speech rights of groups that spew hate, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. But if only popular ideas were protected, we wouldn’t need a First Amendment. History teaches that the first target of government repression is never the last. If we do not come to the defense of the free speech rights of the most unpopular among us, even if their views are antithetical to the very freedom the First Amendment stands for, then no one’s liberty will be secure. In that sense, all First Amendment rights are “indivisible.”

“Censoring so-called hate speech also runs counter to the long-term interests of the most frequent victims of hate: racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. We should not give the government the power to decide which opinions are hateful, for history has taught us that government is more apt to use this power to prosecute minorities than to protect them. As one federal judge has put it, tolerating hateful speech is “the best protection we have against any Nazi-type regime in this country.”

Liberals and others on the left fail to understand the important point the ACLU is making.

This nation was founded on the principle that people have a right to express their opinions without fear of government sanction or violent reprisal.

Nevertheless, there are those who are convinced that muzzling or assaulting political candidates with whom they disagree, shutting down talk radio hosts, television commentators and those who write angry letters to the editor, is the answer.

The fact is when you read between the lines of the outrage concerning political discourse what you find is this: as long as the discourse is in agreement with YOUR beliefs, YOUR political agenda and YOUR view of the world, then it is OK.

But if it is in opposition to what YOU believe, then by all means, it must be suppressed.

That is not the way the First Amendment works.

What those who want to muzzle people like Trump, Ted Cruz, or Bernie Sanders are doing is putting our nation on a perilously slippery slope. Once you give the government the power to police what you can say, where you can say it and how you say it, you have given away your greatest freedom.

The American Bar Association points out that one way of dealing with what some like to label as “hate speech” within the US legal framework is to “create laws and policies that discourage bad behavior but do not punish bad beliefs.”

Silencing and punishing people for what they believe is the most egregious form of tyranny.

Think about Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan of the 1930s and 1940s. Think about Cuba and North Korea today. All of those nations created agencies tasked with watching and listening to what people said–little more than thought police.

The idea that what Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin or Sean Hannity say on their radio and TV shows somehow creates a “climate of hate” in America is ludicrous.

The same goes for those on the other side of the political spectrum such as Moveon.Org or Media Matters. What they say is just as anathema to conservatives as what Levin or Limbaugh say about liberals.

Both are part of the public political discourse, and that is a healthy thing.

Expressing your frustration with the current government, as a lot of Trump and Ted Cruz supporters are doing in the 2016 presidential campaign, and asking elected officials to represent you the way you want to be represented is not hateful.

In fact, the best remedy for hate speech is more free speech. By allowing discourse to move ahead, it keeps things in the open. To stop political candidates from talking or from expressing opposing political views only ensures that the conversation goes underground where,  devoid of the light of day, it will grow into a dangerous malignancy.

That is not what the constitutional framers had in mind when they adopted the First Amendment in 1791.

That critical Constitutional amendment is as brilliant in its brevity as it is in its scope:

“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.”

Americans of every political persuasion should heed those words and not attempt to re-construe their meaning.

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