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Hate Speech 101 ;
Hate speech is an age-old weapon against cultural minorities and political dissidents meant to intimidate and push them out of public discourse. And free speech is an age-old American principle which says that those same minorities and dissidents have a right to express their viewpoints, even if such viewpoints clash with conventional opinions or social norms. Although it is enshrined in the First Amendment, respect for free speech has never been guaranteed in American history, particularly for those that challenge the status quo. That is why advocates for civil rights in the past have fought for the right to be heard, whether they were members of the ACLU or the countless grass-roots movements scattered throughout the past and the present. As defenders of civil and human rights more broadly, they encountered and understood the evils of hate speech in their efforts to make the world a more just and equitable place, and they equally understood the importance of defending First Amendment principles as a means of protecting -- and projecting -- their own speech.
Fast forward to the present day, and this idea seems like a paradox to most. More and more people in America treat “hate speech is bad” and “free speech is good” as though they were mutually exclusive statements.
Many on “the right” fear that acknowledging the harm of “hate speech” is merely a way to shut down open debate to protect people’s feelings, even though hate speech -- historically -- has been one of the most powerful tools for limiting or discouraging other kinds of people from participating in free and open debate (especially if they already lack political or economic power).
At the same time, many self-identified “liberals” seem to have taken the position that passionate defenses of “free speech” are really just out of touch or frenzied excuses for re-legitimizing and empowering historically harmful speech. In addition to increased polarization over how to discuss controversial issues, we lack any clear guidelines for what counts as protected speech.
Hate Speech Zine
As a helpful aid, the IDH has put together a brief zine on hate speech, touching on foundations of free speech law and and the importance of viewpoint neutrality. (Are you thinking to yourself "What on earth is a zine?!" If so, get a quick intro to zines over here.) Take a look!
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