This was originally published on Liberal America on December 10, 2016.
During this election cycle, we have heard many nasty things being thrown around. President-elect Trump had tweet-induced scandals almost every week. The whole country seemed divided. People were blocking and unfollowing each other on their Facebook feeds.
I have unfollowed family members myself.
We all have freedom of speech, but sometimes that freedom can dangerously cross into the area of hate speech. How do we decide where to draw the line?
What Does The Federal Law Say?Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said this about the topic back in 2015:
“Advocates are certainly reporting to us an increased concern around incidents, threats and potential hate crimes that they’re bringing to our attention.”
The hate crime statutes say that it is illegal to harm someone because of their race, religion, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation among others.
What Does The Constitution Say?The First Amendment doesn’t make a distinction between free speech and hate speech.
As The Washington Post reported:
“The same is true of the other narrow exceptions, such as for true threats of illegal conduct or incitement intended to and likely to produce imminent illegal conduct (i.e., illegal conduct in the next few hours or maybe days, as opposed to some illegal conduct some time in the future). Indeed, threatening to kill someone because he’s black (or white), or intentionally inciting someone to a likely and immediate attack on someone because he’s Muslim (or Christian or Jewish), can be made a crime. But this isn’t because it’s ‘hate speech;’ it’s because it’s illegal to make true threats and incite imminent crimes against anyone and for any reason, for instance, because they are police officers or capitalists or just someone who is sleeping with the speaker’s ex-girlfriend.”
Restrictions In SchoolsSchools have to enforce further restrictions on students. They usually don’t allow vulgar words that would normally be okay under freedom of speech rules. They also have anti-bullying rules, so students aren’t allowed to insult each other. Schools have to keep students from causing “disruptions” to other students or during class.
Regardless of where the issue is presented, we have to figure out where to draw the line between free and hate.