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Abusing First Amendment rights with hate speech

In 1791, our founding fathers established the right to free speech by adopting the First Amendment. However, in the last few months white supremacists, Nazis, and other hate groups have severely abused this right by exercising hate speech against various ethnicities and holding violent rallies The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, peaceful assembly, and speech, but it does not condone hate speech because it contradicts the values of the Constitution, takes away the freedom of those discriminated against, and sets a despicable example for future generations.

America was built on principles of equality and opportunity. The Constitution was written “to establish justice … promote general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.” Meanwhile, hate speech undermines these values by stigmatizing certain ethnicities and making it impossible for them to have equal opportunity. It “demonizes innocent people,” as Elite Daily writer Stephanie Be asserts, creating “false portraits” of victims. Labeling Mexicans as uneducated rapists, or African Americans as criminals, perpetuates harmful stereotypes that can make it harder for the victims to find employment or maintain a good reputation. According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, white people receive, fifty percent more callbacks after interviews than black people. Biases like these originate in hate speech. Until America is a completely equal society, we must keep fighting for equality and hate speech moves us in the opposite direction.

In a truly free nation, one cannot impose upon the freedom of others. As hate speech is harmful and restricts people’s liberty, it must be abolished. Some claim that restricting hate speech would undermine people’s right to free speech, but allowing it is even more egregious because it harms the victims both mentally and physically, while being prohibited from it does no damage to the perpetrators Threats force people to live m fear and exclusion from society, undermining their rights to protection. Prejudice also causes people to commit callous, violent actions. “Language neurally activates thought,” Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics George Lakoff explains. This is evident in the white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, where a neo-Nazi crashed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Over thirty were injured and one woman, Heather Heyer, was killed.

Furthermore, hate speech shows our children that animosity toward minorities is acceptable. Discrimination is a learned behavior, and we are continuously teaching it to future generations by allowing Nazis and white supremacists to abuse minorities. The youths will become desensitized to it, and the prejudice will spread and grow. How can we boast equality in America while continuing the pattern of hatred? How can we let these hate groups persist? The reason why Nazism is illegal in Germany but not in America is that Germany is ashamed; America is not.

Clearly, hate speech should not be permitted in the US because it undermines the Constitution, restricts freedom, and demonstrates inhumane behavior to future generations. Prejudice is not only cruel; it’s dangerous: Nazi Germany’s barbarous regime started with one man’s bigotry.

Editor’s Note: Sylvia Wood is the 2018 winner of the League of Women Voters’ annual essay contest with the topic ‘Hate Speech vs. Free Speech.’

18 thoughts on “Abusing First Amendment rights with hate speech

  • Banning any kind of speech undermines our constitutional right. Yes hate speech sucks but where does one draw the line? Anything can be declared hate speech simply because they don’t agree with it under your suggestion. People need to realize and accept, that there will always and I mean always be someone out there that will say something offensive. You can not force anyone to think like you or tell you how to feel or act. Look at countries that closely monitor what people are saying and doing, North Korea, 1940s Germany, China etc. Is that really the life you want Americans to live? They say the wrong thing and then what? Go to jail? The beautiful thing about America is you can be anything you want without someone telling you how to be.

  • Dear young lady. It is sad to see how the schools have tought you how to think. I hope that once you start working, and see how this world works, you will see the truth and not the lies of oppression people tell you. Don’t be lazy, and show great work ethic, and you will go places. I have worked next to all races, and personal drive is what pushes people. The only people that feel they are oppressed, are the people that are too lazy to go out there and hustle to make a good, solid living. Keep your head up, good luck

  • Taught*

  • Wow the writer of this article does not understand the Constitution or appreciate the fact that it is the 1st amendment that protects free speech. There’s a reason it’s the 1st amendment it’s the most important and the core to the entire concept of Western societie. Without freedom of speech we don’t have any of the other rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution. I personally believe the single greatest threat that could ever appear to our nation would be someone within our nation trying to put restrictions on the 1st amendment.

  • Forgot to add there is no such thing as hate speech only speech and threatening speech.

  • The author should read a book entitled “1984” and become familiar with the following terms and concepts:
    1. Thought Crime
    2. Thought Police
    3. Double Think
    4. Double Speak
    5. Big Brother

  • Excellent well written Where I Stand piece Ms. Wood. It appears some commenters don’t understand the 1st Amendment and what legislation our government has already enacted regarding free speech. For instance, you cannot falsely scream fire in a theater if there is no fire. Or how about slander? These are good regulations (i.e. protections). Then there are some not so good regulations that actually hinder free speech like President Bush’s ‘free speech zones’. Some things are just wrong no matter how you look at it, e.g. murder, robbery, and yes Nazi white supremacists hate speech. We are all Humans independent of race, color, religion, et.at. And since we can regulate free speech in this manner, we can also regulate the 2nd amendment

    • I ‘spose you might regulate the 2nd amendment much like the first if it wasn’t for those pesky words ‘Shall not be infringed.’

      • I am sure you think the 2nd Amendment is actually written as “dot dot dot the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” in our Constitution. Here is the actual 2nd Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. One must read and adhere to the entire amendment.

        Hmmm, “well regulated Militia” – that’s state’s National Guard. They are heavily regulated. So unless you are in the National Guard, you do not have the right to keep and bear arms. And even if you take out the National Guard part, “well regulated” means that our government can impose whatever regulations on guns needed to protect…

        • Wrong. “National Guard” became a standard nationwide militia title in 1903, and specifically indicated reserve forces under mixed state and federal control since 1933.

          Long, long after the second amendment was written. Try to keep up.

          • reg·u·late
            past tense: regulated; past participle: regulated control or maintain the rate or speed of (a machine or process) so that it operates properly.
            “a hormone that regulates metabolism and organ function”
            synonyms: control, adjust, manage
            “the flow of the river has been regulated”
            control or supervise (something, especially a company or business activity) by means of rules and regulations.
            “the organization that regulates fishing in the region”
            synonyms: supervise, police, monitor, check, check up on, be responsible.

            In the 2nd amendment it means functioning properly. NOT that the government can “impose whatever regulations needed.” Please.. Try to keep up.

          • In any case we have the Heller Decision.

            District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), is a landmark case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held, in a 5–4 decision, that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense.

            It’s the law of the land.


  • After watching the speech by Emma Gonzalez and reading this article it is comforting to see our youth with principles, morals, and a wonderful ability to express themselves.

  • “…Emma Gonzalez, “..we will support your two children in a way that you will not.”

    That’s easy to say but Emma and her words won’t be there when other kids actually need the real protection of an armed teacher, staff or police officer to meet the force of a perpetrator who IS armed. You aren’t supporting other kids by advocating against an individual’s right to defend themselves and others.

    • It’s sad how you’ve accepted this is just part of living in the USA. You’re right though, it will happen again and again and again. The new qualification for educators is proficiency in firearms. The last thing I would want is my teacher or janitor or lunch lady packing some heat. It’s tough enough for trained police officers or military to engage a target and not have collateral damage. I suppose that’s no concern of yours though.

      • “I suppose that’s no concern of yours though.” Excuse me?? How dare you! Shame on you!!

      • During a school shooting I’d much rather see a teacher, janitor or lunch lady defending my daughters life with a handgun than a pencil.


  • “No concern of yours.” Sounds like hate speech to me!

    Seriously, Are we really expected to look toward government, at any level, for our safety?

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