Opinion | To protect freedom of speech, keep hate speech

People+counter-protest+the+Unite+the+Right+rally+held+by+far-right%2C+white+supremacy+groups+in+Charlottesville%2C+Virginia+on+Aug+12%2C+2017.+Columnist+Judith+Race+believes+that+completely+banning+hate+speech+goes+against+freedom+of+expression%2C+and+its+exposure+allows+people+to+learn+and+fight+against+it.++

Photo Courtesy of Anthony Crider/Flickr

People counter-protest the “Unite the Right” rally held by far-right, white supremacy groups in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug 12, 2017. Columnist Judith Race believes that completely banning hate speech goes against freedom of expression, and its exposure allows people to learn and fight against it.

By Judith Race, Columnist

In 1978, neo-Nazis sought to march through Skokie, Illinois, where one-sixth of the Jewish townspeople were Holocaust survivors or descendants thereof. To protect liberty for all Americans, the American Civil Liberties Union defended the right of the Nazis to stage their march. 

However, even after winning the case, the wannabe brownshirts were too gutless to go to Skokie. What the ACLU demonstrates, though, is the importance of defending the freedom of expression for ideologies and people who are utterly abhorrent. Refusing to protect others’ rights risks compromising everyone’s freedoms. 

Defending freedom of expression is on many people’s minds around campus as the student body contemplates a proposal by the University: policy number FO-82, “Expressive Activity On Campus.” With questions about protest and expression in the air, there is no time like the present to discuss free speech absolutism. 

At its core, free speech absolutism is about the total protection of expression, with few restrictions. This is at odds with recent discourses on banning hate speech since absolute freedom of speech includes all expressions short of defamation, incitement of violence and similar crimes. 

The Constitution and judiciary have protected the absolutist doctrine for good reason. As Justice William O. Douglas posited, allowing the legislature and courts to ban “harmful” expression is effectively signing a blank check for them to mold society as they see fit. 

Those who hold office could quash dissent as they please, arguing that political disharmony is detrimental to the nation’s productivity and efficiency. With polarization at a fever pitch, now would be the worst time to pass such a law, as elites would undoubtedly abuse it for political gain. Therefore, the government must allow the expression of all beliefs in public spaces, no matter their vitriol and bigotry.

As a major public forum in the C-U community, the University campus should also allow for unfettered expression. After all, the purpose of college is to educate and prepare students for the world. If the University bans hate speech on campus, who would prepare students to combat the hate that exists beyond the Main Quad and Allen Hall? 

Hate, whether most people care to admit it, is part of what makes people human — it is a part of the imperfection of humanity. One cannot find freedom from hate by hiding from it, nor from hiding hate itself. Confronting the destructiveness of its tendencies by shining a light on it is the only path to controlling it. 

Banning hate speech does momentarily insulate the population from threatening, infectious ideas. However, as W. B. Yeats said, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” Such insulation would last until the virus of hate infiltrates the people’s minds again, as it mutates to avoid restriction via anonymous online forums, VPNs, the dark web and so on. 

To prevent hate from spreading, there must be inoculation. Prioritize teaching people how to fight bigotry, so they can fight hate in the daylight on their terms rather than banning hate and hunting it by moonlight in unfamiliar terrain. 

Judith is a senior in LAS.

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