At the Intersection of Hate Speech and America: Why Nazis Must Face Consequences in Civil Society
In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, white supremacist rallies around the country, and Donald Trump's express Nazi sympathies, there is now a debate among good people about the place of free speech in America, and how far civil society and private industry should go in curtailing hate speech.
The Supreme Court has established that in America, hate speech is free speech, and is therefore protected under the First Amendment. Many have argued that the best way to fight white supremacists is to let them speak and expose them to daylight. Some have created victimhood for Nazis who have been exposed and bigots who have been fired from their cushy jobs, and others have bemoaned the loss of free speech because speeches by certain white supremacists have had to be canceled over safety concerns, or been been exposed .
They have a point. But to really delve into the debate about free speech, hate speech, and its consequences, we need to first understand the the idea, the confines, and the consequences of freedom of speech.
Simply put, the Constitutional protection of free speech only protects one from being negatively impacted by government action because of what they say. Private actors - individuals, companies, and organizations are not liable to tolerate hate speech by our Constitution. Free speech is not speech without any consequence whatsoever. To the contrary, efforts to expose Nazis to communities where they live and work, and a private employer's right to fire Nazis are themselves subject to the First Amendment's protection of free speech.
Civil society, citizens, and private groups and employers are right to stand up to the modern Nazi movement. Social media networks are right to police hate speech, and tech companies are right to use their power to refuse service to hate groups. Citizens are right to drown out white power rallies with counterprotests. Employers are right to terminate their relationships with employees who openly flout bigoted views.
Hate speech is free speech. But hate speech is not good speech. Those who believe they can espouse hate without consequence must learn otherwise. Especially now. The people who believe that their hatred, bigotry, misogyny, racism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia belong in the public square now that a Nazi sympathizer president must not be proven right.
Why? Because the rest of us have rights, too. Well-meaning Americans of all races, genders and creeds have a right not to have our workplaces dirtied by bigots, to feel safe from the gun-toting intimidation of racists on our streets and in our schools, and not to allow that intimidation and marches to go unchallenged. The rest of us have a right to support social networks that are not facilitating hate and to do business with companies that reflect our values.
The worst thing about dominant power movements (white supremacists, male-power movements, Christian dominionists) is that they believe - and they force many of us to believe - that freedoms are only applicable to them, that only they have rights, that their views and rights take precedence over ours. That only they have power, and that they are justified in using their dominant power to suppress, uproot, or even kill others.
They must be disabused of this notion. The rest of us - not just as individuals but as civil society - must demonstrate that we, too, have rights. We too have power. And that we are willing use our rights and our power to protect our communities, create safe spaces in our workplaces and neighborhoods, and take away the platform for hate.
Because while hate groups get to have a platform under the First Amendment, the rest of us are not obligated to build it for them.
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