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Hate speech is free speech.

Demonstrations in Berkeley on Feb. 1, 2017 after protests against the scheduled speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right speaker and editor of Breitbart News. While hate speech is free speech, property destruction and arson aren’t. This brilliant photo by Joe Parks on Flickr.

I was in San Francisco when Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley, and I found out about his scheduled speech after protestors on campus began to get violent, as my Twitter feed exploded with news.

Over the last week, debates have been rolling throughout my social circles about whether or not shutting down Yiannopoulos, an outspoken far-right speaker” and also editor of Breitbart News, was a violation of free speech.

“Hate speech is not free speech,” one group cries.

“Free speech is dead,” cries the others.

And, annoyingly, I’m inclined to side with the conservatives and Republicans this time.


Despite what the “hate speech is not free speech” group believes, hate speech is not an exception to the free speech clause of the First Amendment. There’s a brilliant piece in the Washington Post about it, and the ACLU also agrees.

I think it’s an unfortunate reality. Hate speech is often violent, hateful and intolerant. It goes against every value that I believe in, and I’m part of two communities in the United States that are often the target of hateful speech.

Like physical violence, verbal attacks can destroy a person’s health and well-being, as I believe none of us should have our identities, beliefs, and backgrounds violated. It’s disgusting.

But the First Amendment protects speech, offensive or not. It’s true that the First Amendment does not protect all speech (or else lying in a court could be protected under this ideology), but hate speech is not established as an exception. As the ACLU puts it, “how much we value the right of free speech is put to its severest test when the speaker is someone we disagree with most.”
https://www.aclu.org/other/hate-speech-campus
The purpose of the freedom of speech is to allow for the unfettered, unobstructed expression of all ideas. Any restriction upon the right to the freedom of speech is a limitation upon our ability to discuss and deliberate ideas to progress towards a better world.

With the perfect hindsight of time, we can look back at events in United States history and appreciate their struggle. The abolition of slavery. The empowerment of women. The repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The fight against Japanese internment.

But these steps of progression would not have happened if such opinions and views had been silenced by an unsympathetic and oppressive majority.

And, so, hate speech is protected by the freedom of speech.


But — in a glimmer of hope for the progressives fighting against hate speech — nothing in First Amendment prohibits or restricts your right to express your believe that hate speech should not be protected.

Saying “hate speech should not be protected” and persuading others of your beliefs is exactly the point of the First Amendment.

But don’t disguise your opinion as a fact, because—at best—it’s an alternative fact.

“Hate speech is free speech,” I say. “But it shouldn’t be.”


Updated March 18, 2017: I found this article by Julia Serano, which argues a slightly different point from my own. I agree with every one of the points made, which is why I’m linking to Julia’s Medium post here.
https://www.aclu.org/other/hate-speech-campus

By Leo Ji

software engineer and news nerd