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 50 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. More than 30 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 U.S. 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.’