“Hate speech is not free speech.”
This cliche can be heard throughout public discourse, often in opposition to racist, bigoted or hateful speech. Those who propagate the idea have good intentions — but they are incorrect. Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that protection through years of American jurisprudence.
In his opinion in the 2017 case Matal v. Tam Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate.’”
According to Caitlin Ring Carlson, associate professor of communication at Seattle University, those who support hate speech protection argue that hate speech functions as a bellwether for most forms of bigotry. The argument suggests that if bigots are prevented from publicly sharing hateful speech, society will have no idea of how racist, homophobic or hateful it is.
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