In this country we have the right freedom of expression. But people have called for the banning of speech they believe to be “hateful.” Some people even believe that words are violence. But even hateful speech is protected under the First Amendment.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: So, you know, in this country we have free speech. We’ve talked about it all the time. I think that is sort of what’s free speech, I think that’s actually the issue I’m most passionate about. I was trying to think like what really drives me, what gets me out of bed every morning. And I think, equality before the law, which is also kind of in jeopardy these days, and free speech, those are my bread and butter. So, a lot of times people are trying now, especially to say that hate speech should be regulated by the government, this idea that hate speech is not part of free speech and hate speech. I wanna point out, is not actually a legal term. Hate speech isn’t actually a thing. It’s kind of something that, these cancel culture people, and we had a whole episode on that a couple of weeks ago, have made up to say that, you know, there’s certain kinds of speech that make people do violent things. Comedians get this a lot. If a comedian makes fun of a certain group. In fact, this just happened a couple of months ago. Dave Chappelle said some just funny jokes in his comedy, definitely not kid friendly. But he made some jokes and he said, you know, people were saying, this is hate speech. This is inciting violence because you made this joke. Now people are gonna go out and they’re gonna commit violence against people, and that is just outrageous. So Connor, can you give us a brief rundown of, just what you think hate, speech is, and then we’re gonna dive into kind of how it is protected under the First Amendment?
Connor: So, I think there’s kind of two classes, two groups of hate speech I would suggest. The first is speech that is clearly intended to incite violence against, a group or a person, right? So like, you know, if I were, you know, black in Alabama in 1960 and someone is like, oh, you know, let’s hang this guy and let you know, like if they’re using their speech in a way that’s encouraging violence, right? Or if like, whatever my characteristic today, like, okay, I’m Mormon, right? So if people are like, oh, you’re evil, let’s go beat up the guy and let’s go like, steal his stuff or whatever. It’s like you don’t actually need to do the violence, but if you’re like encouraging it, or if you are creating circumstances that might lead to that, then I’m kinda like, all right, maybe, maybe there’s something there. But, what is so often described as hate speech is in the eye of the beholder. What I mean by that, it’s more like this term microaggressions, right? Like, It’s so silly that, oh, you said something I don’t, like, I feel offended. You know, I feel attacked, you know, you said something unkind about me, or you said something unflattering, or you didn’t use my preferred pronouns and all these things. People have such thin skin, it feels like where they call something as hate speech that maybe it was intended to poke fun at you or be mean or criticize you, but, you know, people perceive that that’s an attack that they should be protected from. In other words, that other person’s speech should be controlled or restricted so that they cannot engage in this so-called hate speech. So like, you know, look, if I plan to rob a bank and I coordinate the plans, but then other people actually rob the bank and they’re caught, I’m still gonna be punished, right? Because I’m aiding and abetting. Yes. Right? I’m like assisting in that robbery of the bank. I think to my first example, if I’m like, inciting violence, even though I’m not actually doing the violence, that’s kind of a separate crime. You’re basically helping plan a crime, which is kind of the same as doing the crime itself. So that type of speech, I think goes into a different category where it’s like you’re trying to encourage physical attacks on people or theft or, you know, whatever. But everything else of just using our words and saying unkind things and saying something that makes you feel bad or pokes fun at you know, just falls into this broader kind of free speech bucket where just because you don’t like it or you feel it’s a microaggression or whatever the kids wanna call these days, doesn’t mean that you can get the government to go shut that speech down, nor should you, because if the tables were turned, you wouldn’t want the government, you know, restricting your speech. Right?
Brittany: You know what’s really funny to me? So there’s this new thing going on with the woke crowd these days where they say words are violence. But then you, you turned on the news last summer and you saw, or I guess two summers ago, you saw people burning down buildings and protesting, and that wasn’t violence, right? I don’t know why, but that wasn’t violence. I was just watching, some documentary footage today of this, these things that happened on it, this campus called Evergreen College, where, these students were telling the white professors and students that they couldn’t come to school because they needed to acknowledge their racism. And some of the teachers were like, Hey, wait a second, how is this, you know, helping anything? And you had the students saying that that was a violent act, that the things they were saying were a violent act. And then these students ended up locking the teachers in the college and holding them, hostage. And I’m thinking, hold on a second. So the teacher teachers voicing opposition and saying, you know, I have concerns over you telling me I can’t come to school because of my race. That was fine, but then they were allowed to be violent towards the teachers. So there seems to be this skewed thing where people think that speech is somehow, it almost gives them, if you don’t like what somebody says, it almost gives you a reason to go burn down something or use violence. So it’s very skewed to me on what has happened. But one thing I think is important, on this note is that people like you and I, who really like free speech, that we need to stand up for speech, even if it’s a speech we don’t like, right? So even if there’s people saying things that you and I are gonna think like, oh my goodness, that is horrible. I would never do that. But you know what? They have the right to do that, and that is what makes our country so great. So the ACLU, that means the American Civil Liberties Union, unfortunately. So they used to be really great on First Amendment stuff, really, really great. Not so much anymore, which is a shame, but we’ve got other organizations and public interest law firms that have stepped into help. So there was a case called Brandon Verberg versus Ohio, okay? And this was, I think in the sixties, and a guy who was a neo-Nazi, meaning he was, he believed in the Nazi stuff you and I have talked about before, but it was in the modern day. It was after World War II, he led a whole rally and was trying to get other, other neo-Nazis to just, you know, they’re just rallying them up, talking about terrible things about minorities. He was arrested and fined and the ACLU, it was a Jewish lawyer. So even though he completely disagreed with what this guy had to say, and he was Jewish himself, he still defended him in court and they won. Yeah. So, I think that to me is a really powerful story because again, do we like what neo-Nazis have to say? I certainly don’t. I think a lot of us don’t, but they have the right to say it so long Connor, as they’re not saying, all right, now go charge and go, you know, go light homes on fire and go beat people up, right? So I think it’s really important to remember that we have to protect all speech, even speech that might be considered, you know, quote-unquote hate speech.
Connor: This isn’t speech per se, but your story of the ACLU defending this and this Jewish attorney defending this neo-Nazi reminds me of when John Adams defended the British red flag.
Brittany: I was he the same thing.
Connor: Right? Well, here’s, this guy who’s very upset with the British, but yet felt like, wait, you know, they need a fair trial and they need to be represented, they need to be held accountable. You know, if indeed they’re guilty, but you know, they, because it, what matters is the process. If we create a process that allows us to shut down the speech of people we don’t like, then what happens when the people we don’t like are in charge of the process? Yep. Right? It, there’s the quote. I think Abraham Lincoln might have said it, I actually have to go back and verify this, but we’ll just say it’s an unknown, quote from.
Brittany: I think I know which quote you’re gonna say it. It’s not Abraham Lincoln, but let’s hear it. Let’s see if you’re right.
Connor: All right. Let’s see if you’re right. Never give your friend a power you wouldn’t want your enemy to also have.
Brittany: Okay. I think that is Abraham Lincoln, actually.
Connor: Okay. All right. Maybe it is. We can, someone can go fact-check me when they’re listening, but regardless of who said it, the principle is true. If you, I mean like everyone in Congress is upset about the filibuster and kids don’t need to know what that is. The point is that like you get into the government and people want to exercise a certain power over people who disagree with them, but then when the other party gets elected into power, they find that they have this new power and oh, look at all the things I can do now on my opponents. And of course, those people don’t like it cuz now it’s happening to them. But it’s like, it’s kind of the golden rule in politics, I guess, right? Where it’s like if you don’t want your enemy to use that or you know, opponent or people you disagree with if you don’t want them to use that type of power against you to be specific here if you don’t want other people to shut down your speech, right? That like, you know, you believe there’s two genders or you don’t agree with, you know, gay marriage, if that’s your thing or you believe in liberty and you don’t think the founding fathers were bigots or like whatever you believe, right? If you want the ability to say it openly and not be punished for it, then that means you need to also defend the right of people you disagree with to also advocate their beliefs and their views, even if you find them totally awful, right? What matters is the process. Because if you’re like, oh, well my views are okay, but yours aren’t, the tables are gonna turn eventually, you know that your opponents are gonna have the power and suddenly you’re gonna find yourself in the minority where your views are getting shut down. And then how are you gonna like it then?
Brittany: So the quote I thought you were gonna say, I pulled it up. So, it goes perfectly with what you just said. I disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. And that’s, I like, that’s Voltaire, I have thought it was somebody else, but apparently Voltaire according to Lord Google it is Voltaire. But I’ve always really liked that because I definitely don’t like what a lot of people say, but I would never try to use the state against them to shut that speech down. And a lot of what we’re seeing today is happening on social media, right? Where Twitter is, is deleting people’s accounts or Facebook is, is suspending people. And I mean, we could have a whole episode on what’s wrong there cuz that’s a really tricky area cuz that’s not the government. But, there are calls from a lot of people, and there are a lot of people that are part of this, you know, woke culture we’ve talked about before, who really would like to use the government to bridge speech. And it’s funny because they’re not trying to hide it. You see a lot of articles now written like, well, why free speech goes too far, Prince Harry, which nobody wants here anyway, right? Prince Harry, I, guess he doesn’t nobody in England wants him anymore either. So he came over here and he said that our concept of free speech is just nuts and crazy. And to me, it doesn’t like that’s the best argument for free speech when a member of the royal family of England comes over and tells us that America got free speech wrong. I’m just like, oh dear, that’s a great affidavit, but isn’t that crazy that somebody in power is just like, how dare you guys have, you know, give your people the freedom to say what they want? But that is to me, one of the most important things we have, I mean, the American Revolution wouldn’t have happened if people didn’t dare speak their minds. And I believe we are either the first country or we, I don’t think we’re the only country now, but we were the first country to explicitly write in free speech.
Connor: Well, this is the, I mean, free speech is hard, right? You you’re mentioning like early America right now, and we’ve shared in a past episode the story of, the Alien and Sedition Act. Yes. Specifically the Sedition Act. When the Federalists were in power John Adams was president. He didn’t like all the French, he didn’t like them all moving to America. He thought they were all crazy people. And so his party controlled Congress, these are many of the same people. Like the ink wasn’t even dry on the Constitution yet, right? They had just created the Constitution just, you know, prior and hear many of these same people now voting in support of a law that says you are not allowed to criticize Congress or the president of the United States like Benjamin Franklin’s grandson. Like, we talked on I think the last episode of the one before about journalism and the media. Benjamin Franklin’s grandson owned his own newspaper. He had like a press and a little newspaper that he did. He was critical of John Adams and he was thrown in jail, Benjamin Franklin’s grandson for violating this law by using his speech to be critical of the government. So here’s like you’re pointing out like America first country, get it right, free speech, and yet many of the same people when yeah, they got it wrong when they were in power and they didn’t have the integrity to say, you know what, we shouldn’t do this because we wouldn’t want our opponents doing it to us. And so the very people responsible for helping pass the first Amendment to the Constitution, which protects our right to free speech, passed an unconstitutional law limiting our free speech. The other example I’ll share as we wrap up is you shared, excuse me, you shared the story of the ACLU and in the early days that they were so great at defending free speech and they were criticized for it by a lot of the people on the quote-unquote left, you know, but they really staked out this position that, look, we stand for civil liberties and free speech and we know that we have to protect it even, and especially in cases that we disagree with so that we can authentically defend it when it’s cases that we do agree with. Fast forward to today, just a few weeks ago, I saw a story, that someone posted about one of the ACLU chapters in one of the states, filing a lawsuit over pronouns that they were actually on the other side of the issue. They thought that the free speech laws were too relaxed and that people should be punished. I believe it was in a school context. I think a teacher wasn’t using the preferred pronouns of a student or something like that, but it was very eye-opening that here’s the ACLU, this institution that long has stood for free speech, and now they’re advocating for compulsion against someone who doesn’t want to use their speech in a certain way. You’re a big Jordan Peterson fan, right?
Brittany: I was gonna say, that’s what it reminded me of. Yep.
Connor: Right? Like that’s how we got his whole start was this whole pronoun thing and, more than just pronouns and gender and all that kind of stuff, which is controversial for some, it’s a question of free speech and should people be compelled to speak and act and believe in a manner that they don’t, that is not authentic to who they are, should the government in intervene and force these people to do these things? And so this is a big issue, but it shows to me some of these examples, the John Adams and his Federalist Party and the modern ACLU and so forth, it shows that it’s very hard to get it right when it comes to free speech. It’s very tempting to want to restrict the speech of your opponents, right? But we have to rise above that and recognize that if we don’t protect their speech, even if we completely disagree with it, we think it’s immoral, we think it’s unethical, whatever it is, right? If we don’t defend it, then we’re basically giving up our own free speech rights because they’re gonna be attacked using the same power. This is a super, super important issue. Frankly, Brittany. I think this issue’s gonna get even more important in the years ahead with how crazy things are going. So let’s be thinking about talking about it, and stand up for the First Amendment for free speech, even for our opponents. Hope you guys enjoyed the topic. Thanks to you, Brittany, for joining me. And until next time, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.