If The Devil Turns: In Defense of “Hate Speech”

If you’ve been paying attention to the media at all this week, then you’re no doubt familiar with the “incident” that occurred this past Sunday at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas. If, by chance, you’re not, I’ll remind you: one Pamela Geller co-organized a “Draw the Prophet Mohammed” event, which two wannabe ISIS Jihaddists attempted to attack and massacre all in attendance. They were gunned down by an armed police officer before they made it to the front door.

Since the attack, I’ve seen the incident – the drawing contest, not the terror attack – increasingly and fervently condemned as “hate speech,” and a growing number of calls to enact legislation against such so-called “hate speech,” up to and including doing away with the First Amendment altogether.

I’m sure my Liberal friends who are reading this will be surprised by what I’m about to say next: I understand where those individuals are coming from. I really do. “Hate speech” is hurtful and offensive, it makes people sad, upset, angry, depressed, hurt. And nobody wants to be made to feel that way.

But like it or not, that very sort of speech is protected, and must always be protected, by the First Amendment.

The question then becomes, why? Why must this hurtful, hateful speech be protected? Why not do away with the antiquated concept of “freedom of speech” and protect the feelings of others?

I’m reminded of a scene from the Academy Award winning film A Man for All Seasons. This speech, specifically:

Granted, said speech is likely the product of Robert Bolt’s script and entirely fictional, but Sir Thomas More’s point remains firm: if you do away with the law, then who or what will protect you?

Let me put forth a more relateable example:

Let’s say that the First Amendment is done away with, and laws are put in place that give the government the power to decide what sort of speech or expression is protected under the law, and what sort of speech or expression constitutes “hate speech” and is therefore outlawed. Let’s say that these laws go so far as to mimic laws from the United Kingdom and other European countries, so being convicted of espousing “hate speech” is a felony and carries serious jail time. All well and good, right?

Now let’s fast foward to 2016 or 2020. And now let’s say that Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, or whoever your Radical Far-Right Republican boogeyman candidate might be, let’s say they are elected President. And let’s also say that Tea Party-backed candidates manage to grab a supermajority of both the House and Senate. Guess what? They now have the power to regulate what form of speech is “protected” under the law, and what speech is forbidden and can get you thrown in jail. And more likely than not, your opinions and feelings just wound up on the wrong side of those laws.

Does that possibility scare you? I can say without reservation that it scares me, and I’d probably be on the right side of those laws.

Our Founding Fathers, for all their real or imagined faults, were smart enough to recognize that the freedom of speech is essential to liberty, which is why they enshrined it in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Note that there’s no provision in there excepting hate speech. That’s because our Founding Fathers recognized that if we gave the government the power to impose limits on the freedom of speech, no matter how well-intentioned those limits may have been, they could and would be twisted to stifle and ultimately stamp out political and religious dissent.

To paraphrase Sir Thomas More’s speech, if we do away with laws in order to further what we see as the greater good, then nothing will be able to protect us when – not if – we find ourselves on the wrong side of that same greater good.

Now in the interest of full disclosure: since the attack on her event I have seen several interviews with Pamela Geller. Honestly, I think she’s a few colors and a sharpener short of a Crayola 64 Pack (see what I did there?). But as distasteful as I may find her political and religious views, I will stand by her, and I will fight for her right to espouse them. I must, as must we all, for our own sake as well as hers. We must stand in defense of free speech, no matter how vile, no matter how abhorent, no matter how disgusting or hurtful that speech may be, because to do otherwise is to welcome tyranny, to willingly throw ourselves under the boot of oppression and into the yoke of enslavement.

If we cut down our laws in pursuit of the Devil, then there will be nothing to protect us if the Devil turns and the hot winds blow against us.

I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
-Voltaire

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