It is the right of a person to articulate opinions and ideas without interference, retaliation or punishment from the government. In this context, the term “speech” is not limited to spoken words; it also includes symbolic speech, such as what a person wears, reads, performs, protests and more. Freedom of speech is strongly protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, as well as many state and federal laws. The USA has some of the strongest free-speech protections in the world, and they help form the bedrock of our constitutional republic. The First Amendment protects even speech that many would see as offensive or hateful. Violent speech, threats of unlawful violence or death, obscenity, defamation, graffiti, and actions such as cross burning on private property are NOT protected as free speech. Free speech is not only a fundamental right, but, as James Madison said, the “effectual guardian of every other right.” Free speech enables citizens to advocate for all their other civil rights and is the single most powerful bulwark against government tyranny.
Broadly speaking, the First Amendment protects all types of speech, but exceptions do exist. Types of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment include the following:
- Incitements of violence or lawless action: There is no right to incite people to break the law, including to commit acts of violence. For an action to constitute incitement, the Supreme Court of the United States has determined that there must be a substantial likelihood of imminent illegal activity, and the speech must be directed to causing imminent illegal activity. For example, a speaker on campus who exhorts the audience to engage in acts of vandalism and destruction of property is not protected by the First Amendment if there is a substantial likelihood of imminent illegal activity.
- Fighting words: Speech that is personally or individually abusive and is likely to incite imminent physical retaliation.
- True threats: Statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. The speaker does not have to act on his or her words (e.g., commit a violent act) in order to communicate a true threat. For example, if a group of students yelled at a student in a menacing way that would cause the student to fear a physical assault, such speech would not be protected.
- Obscenity: Speech or materials may be deemed obscene (and therefore unprotected) if the speech meets the following (extremely high) threshold: It (1) appeals to the “prurient” interest in sex, (2) is patently offensive by community standards and (3) lacks literary, scientific or artistic value.
- Defamation: An intentional and false statement about an individual that is publicly communicated in written (called “libel”) or spoken (called “slander”) form, causing injury to the individual.
- Harassment: Conduct based on a protected category that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victim’s educational experience, that the victim is effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.
- False advertising: A knowingly untruthful or misleading statement about a product or service.
- Certain symbolic actions: But only if the actions are otherwise illegal, such as tagging, graffiti, littering or burning a cross on private property.
- Child pornography
- Interference with medical treatment: Speech that interferes with the treatment of patients.
- Invasion of privacy: An unjustifiable invasion of privacy or confidentiality not involving a matter of public concern.
- Material and substantial disruption: An action that materially and substantially disrupts the functioning of the university or that substantially interferes with the protected free expression rights of others.
Historically, the Supreme Court has defined these terms very narrowly, limiting the authority of the government and public officials to prohibit or prosecute speech, even if it appears to fall into one of these categories.
The term “hate speech” is often misunderstood. Hate speech is not a separate category of speech under the law. The term refers to speech that insults or demeans a person or group of people on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability or gender. Justice William Brennan wrote in the Supreme Court’s decision in Texas v. Johnson (1989):
“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because it finds it offensive or disagreeable.”
More recently, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in Snyder v. Phelps (2011):
“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
Hate speech is only unprotected if it falls into one of the categories described above (e.g., “fighting words” or “true threats”). Although this may be difficult to understand or accept, even speech that is hateful or offensive is still likely protected by the First Amendment. However, just because there is a First Amendment right to say something, that doesn’t mean it should be said. In addition, the First Amendment does not protect actions just because they are motivated by an individual’s beliefs or opinions. Therefore, even though hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, “hate crimes” may be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
The courts have held that burning the American flag is protected speech (Texas v. Johnson (1989)), and so is wearing armbands to protest a war (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969)). However, the First Amendment does not protect the use of nonverbal symbols to directly threaten an individual or encroach upon or destroy private property. Examples might include hanging a noose above a dorm room door or spray-painting swastikas on the library wall.
“Hate speech” and “political correctness” are essentially an attempt to muzzle free speech and introduce thought control (see “Cultural Marxism and the Birth of Modern Thought Crime” by Claudio Grass for an in-depth discussion of the topic). It also has the uncanny power to transform normally intelligent people into gibbering idiots and pansies (“Reality is a Formidable Enemy” provides a few striking examples).
Hate speech laws are going in all around the world, and progressive activists in the United States want to use these kinds of laws to destroy free speech in America. You see, the truth is that these hate speech laws that are being implemented all over the planet are not just about preventing speech that promotes violence or genocide against a particular group of people. Instead, these laws are written in such a way that anyone that says something that “offends” or “insults” someone else is guilty of “hate speech”. Even if you never intended to offend anyone and you had no idea that your words were insulting, in some countries you can be detained without bail and sentenced to years in prison for such speech.
Today, there are highly restrictive hate speech laws in Canada, in Mexico and in virtually every single European nation. The United States is still an exception, but the truth is that our liberties and freedoms are being eroded every single day, and it is only a matter of time until “hate speech laws” are used to take away our freedom of speech too. If you don’t think that this could ever happen in America, you should consider what the American Bar Association has to say on the matter. This is the national organization that represents all of our lawyers, judges, etc. So when the ABA speaks on legal matters, it carries a significant amount of weight. The following is how the American Bar Association defines “hate speech”…
Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.
Those that do not believe that this could ever possibly happen in “the land of the free” should consider what has already happened in our neighbor to the north…
Anyone who is offended by something you have said or written can make a complaint to the Human Rights Commissions and Tribunals. In Canada, these organizations police speech, penalizing citizens for any expression deemed in opposition to particular sexual behaviors or protected groups identified under ‘sexual orientation.’ It takes only one complaint against a person to be brought before the tribunal, costing the defendant tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. The commissions have the power to enter private residences and remove all items pertinent to their investigations, checking for hate speech.
Of course the same kind of thing is already happening over in Europe as well. For instance, one Christian pastor in Northern Ireland is being prosecuted for calling Islam “a doctrine spawned in hell”…
An evangelical pastor in Northern Ireland is under fire and will be prosecuted after calling Islam “satanic” and claiming that its doctrine was “spawned in hell” during a controversial 2014 sermon that streamed over the Internet.
Pastor James McConnell, 78, of Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast, Northern Ireland, made his comments — which included calling Islam “heathen” — in a sermon delivered last May, the BBC reported.
“The Muslim religion was created many hundreds of years after Christ. Muhammad, the Islam Prophet, was born around the year A.D. 570, but Muslims believe that Islam is the true religion,” he preached. “Now, people say there are good Muslims in Britain. That may be so, but I don’t trust them.”
McConnell continued, “Islam’s ideas about God, about humanity, about salvation are vastly different from the teaching of the holy scriptures. Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic. Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”
Once such laws are in place in the United States, it won’t be difficult for the government to find you if you are committing “hate speech”. As I have written about repeatedly, the U.S. government already monitors virtually everything that is said and done on the Internet. The following is an excerpt from an article that was recently authored by Micah Lee, Glenn Greenwald, and Morgan Marquis-Boire…
The sheer quantity of communications that XKEYSCORE processes, filters and queries is stunning. Around the world, when a person gets online to do anything — write an email, post to a social network, browse the web or play a video game — there’s a decent chance that the Internet traffic her device sends and receives is getting collected and processed by one of XKEYSCORE’s hundreds of servers scattered across the globe.
In order to make sense of such a massive and steady flow of information, analysts working for the National Security Agency, as well as partner spy agencies, have written thousands of snippets of code to detect different types of traffic and extract useful information from each type, according to documents dating up to 2013. For example, the system automatically detects if a given piece of traffic is an email. If it is, the system tags if it’s from Yahoo or Gmail, if it contains an airline itinerary, if it’s encrypted with PGP, or if the sender’s language is set to Arabic, along with myriad other details.
Also, western governments are already using paid trolls to identify and combat “extremists” on social media websites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. We are rapidly becoming a “Big Brother” society, and if we don’t stand up for our freedoms and liberties now, it is inevitable that we will eventually lose just about all of them.
President Trump’s signing of an executive order on 3/22/2019 that required colleges and universities to support free speech or face the loss of federal funding called needed attention to the serious problem of campus censorship. Free speech zones, speech codes, safe spaces, repressive speech fees, aggressive administrations and outright violence had become the norm for college campuses.
“Under the guise of speech codes, safe spaces and trigger warnings, these universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity and shut down the voices of great young Americans like those here today,” President Trump said.
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, 129 schools in the U.S. at the time of the EO had “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech” and 282 schools had policies that “restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression.”
Chronological History of Events Related to Free Speech