Tag Archives: hate acts

The First Amendment Exists, But Does Hate Speech?

Hate speech is a subject that appears to be easy to define. One may assume that hate speech is any kind of racially or religiously hateful slander. In actuality, it is much more.  Hate speech is hard to define, some people even argue that it cannot be defined. After all, one person’s hate speech is another person’s beliefs.

            Before we can define hate speech, we need to first debate whether or not it should be protected. Looking at a case in December of 2012 in Haywood county North Carolina may help shed some light on both sides1. When confederate flags were removed from the monument outside of the capitol building, a group called “The Sons of Confederate Veterans” got a hold of a lawyer, and looked for war. They claimed that they were not a hateful group looking for trouble. Their motive is to remember their ancestors who died fighting for their beliefs. The county finds the flags offensive and hateful however. Even though the flags don’t cause harm, and are 100% constitutional, should they be considered unconstitutional?

             But what about when hate speech can incite violence? Many people argue that hate speech can do nothing other than incite violence. It wasn’t found unconstitutional when a “White lives matter” rally was shut down on the Texas A&M campus in 20172Rallies like these can only bring harm to a campus and the people in the neighboring town, which is exactly why this one was shut down. 

             So what exactly should we do? If we were to deem hate speech unconstitutional, we could be safer from incited violence. If we allowed it, the citizens of america could freely express their opinion, a privilege not often seen elsewhere. But what would we define hate speech as? Unfortunately, we will never truly be able to identify hate speech, but we can tell what is hurtful. Instead on focusing on defining an undefinable problem, we should focus on creating a country where equality is not only enforced, but encouraged, where all people have the right to grow and speak together.

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Hate Speech: Causing Controversy and Challenging Lawmakers

In the past decade there has been more focus than ever before on the impact that a person’s words have on another individual. Bullying and harassment awareness has been a growing topic discussed in both schools and communities. Some believe that these issues fall under the category of hate speech, which the American Bar Association: Division for Public Education defines as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” There is a good amount of controversy over the topic, and many find themselves asking:

Should hate speech be protected under the First Amendment?

It is easy to confuse hate speech with fighting words, which the ABA defines as “words without social value, directed to a specific individual, that would provoke a reasonable member of the group about whom the words are spoken”, and are not protected under the First Amendment. The slight difference between these two is that fighting words are words that are likely to cause the listener to react violently, while hate speech is not defined by the resulting physical reaction. Freedom of speech protects words that the listener may view as offensive or hateful and that they might disagree with, as long as those words do not cause the listener to react in a negative way.


Another fine line that has caused controversy on this topic is between hate speech and hate acts. Hate acts may be regulated by law, but hate speech may not, though this is often not because of the hateful reason behind the act, but the fact that the act is otherwise illegal. For example, if an individual was to throw rocks, written on with hateful words targeting the victims religion, through the window of their home, they would most likely be charged only with destruction of property. It would be very likely that the hateful nature of this act would not affect the sentence received. Many argue that this is the proper way to deal with this type of crime, because it is more important to focus on the crime itself than the motivation behind it. Instances like this prove that it can be blatantly obvious that speech or acts are motivated by hate, but it is not always that clear. Words can be interpreted differently by all sorts of people, so it becomes difficult for lawmakers to define and create a law against hate speech. As previously stated, a law against fighting words is feasible because they are defined by their outcome, but because hate speech causes feelings, not necessarily negative actions, it becomes much more difficult to judge.

As the LA Times states, “Hateful ideas are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas.” You simply cannot create a law against words based on the way they make people feel, because this violates the basic idea of freedom of speech in the First Amendment.