Friday, April 13, 2007

Is hate speech also free speech?

It was 'Survivor' night last night and we have this thing going with our neighbors for a couple of seasons whereby we go to their house or their come to ours beforehand. Last night was at our place and the conversation got around to Don Imus's firing for calling the Rutgers ladies basketball team a racial slur, namely "nappy-headed hors". I don't care that that is part of the 'rap' vernacular and thus invented and used by black rappers everyday. That is not a defense.

To be honest, when I first heard it, I got that 'hors' alluded to whores but I did not get that 'nappy' means kinked hair.

Anyway, our neighbors both thought that Imus had a right to free speech that was protected by the Constitution. Jessica said that people who hate have a right to make hate speech, to say something she does not like or agree with because hate speech is also part of the right to free speech. She said she was Jewish and there are many people who say hateful things about Jewish people that she does not like, but the right to free speech must be protected. Larry and Scott seemed to agree, Larry even saying that many people in America say horrible racist things about Puerto Ricans and he just ignores it or laughs it off. Their argument also followed the line of 'let the market decide', that if people don't like it, they can switch off the radio or TV or not buy the magazine or newspaper, etc.


I could see their point, but in the end I concluded that free speech must indeed be protected but there are some forms of speech that is so abhorrent, so derogatory, so destructive that it is not true speech at all. It is hate or prejudice, uttered to incite a targeted audience, and thus it is dangerous because, when received by that audience who may have the power to take action against the victims of the diatribe, it can lead to bloodshed and even murder. Moreover, the fiction or analogy of people being subjected to hate speech as being people operating in an open market is not applicable. Not everything in our society can be reduced to a question of market forces.

In my mind, the state has a compelling reason to prevent hate speech from occurring and can take all action available to it to remove the speech from the airways. I would even go further and add that the government should take action to remove such speech from private airways, such as those streaming cable TV, satellite radio, etc. into our houses.

I believe we, humans, are in a constant struggle to evolve, to become better, to reach higher levels of justice and compassion for our fellow human beings and hatred, discrimination and bigotry have no place in the evolutionary cycle. Neither does Don Imus's 'jokes.' He went to the trough one time too many and it is just that he pay a price and his time at CBS and MSNBC is now over.

Of course, politicians and other leaders in society should take a look at themselves and ask why they were prepared to overlook his jibes at African-Americans, gays and lesbians, and women in order to appear on his show and get their own messages out in the past yet stated they wouldn't again appear on his program before it was actually canceled. I'd say that is hypocrisy.

Can we hope Rush Limbaugh and others of this ilk are next?

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