There is a campaign gaining momentum across America against so-called “hate speech." This campaign reared its head in New Jersey. As Rebecca Everett reports for NJ.com (How you can join hundreds in N.J. saying 'hate has no home here'), the campaign apparently started in Chicago with a slogan created by two elementary school students, “Hate Has No Home Here.” The slogan was adapted to a poster that repeats the message in six languages.
According to the activists' website, the campaign is needed because “Hate, unchecked, can make neighbors feel fearful and unwelcome in their own communities. The Hate Has No Home Here project reminds us what it means to be American. The . . . project seeks to declare neighborhood residences, businesses, and places of community free from hate speech and behavior, providing safe places for conversation, work, learning, and living.”
The emphasis is mine so as to highlight the irony of the campaign. I’ll explain later. Everett continues:
Red and blue lawn signs are popping up around New Jersey, but they're not for any politician or political party.
The signs reading "Hate Has No Home Here" in six languages are intended to send a message of peace and inclusion while denouncing hate speech, said Robin Coyne, who proudly displays a sign on her Audubon lawn.
The topic seems especially relevant this week, as homes in nearby Maple Shade, Cinnaminson and Moorestown received Valentine-themed KKK fliers on their doorsteps over the weekend. Police and local civil rights groups have condemned the fliers as hate speech.
I left these comments:
This campaign against so-called “hate speech” is childish and shallow-minded. It’s like attacking the symptom rather than the cause—like taking pain pills instead of attacking the cancer. Shutting down disagreeable speech will not defeat the ideas behind it. They’ll just drive the bad ideas underground. Furthermore, an anti-hate speech campaign will just elevate bigots and their tactics, like the KKK flyers, to a status of respect that they don’t deserve. The KKK flyers should be ridiculed, not treated like meaningful discourse with such threatening power that it must be banned. Bigotry and ignorance has no power other than what we grant it.
But this campaign is also dangerous. “Hate speech” is in the eye of the beholder. How does one even define it? The term “hate speech” is really an anti-concept—an undefinable catchphrase intended to lump different forms of expression into a single package. Around the country, anti-hate speech crusaders are trying to shut down legitimate critical analysis even to the point of trying to ban speakers and books simply because to them the topic or title sounds offensive or hateful, even though they haven’t heard the speech or read the book. There is a huge difference between, for example, rational criticism of Islamists who believe their religion entitles them to impose a theocracy or commit acts of terrorism, and outright bigotry against all Muslims. Yet the rational critics are often lumped in with the bigots as purveyors of hate speech or “Islamophobia.” Anti-hate speech is a victory for superficiality over substance.
Perhaps the racist distributors of the KKK fliers can be prosecuted for harassment or invasion of privacy, since the perpetrators had to trespass on private property to drop off their stupid fliers. That’s legitimate. And it’s legitimate to critique the KKK and its ideas and mission—and the activists should use the fliers as an opportunity to do just that. But the fliers should not be opposed simply on the grounds of hate speech. That’s meaningless, and dangerous. An attack on the KKK itself for what it stands for is free speech. Attacking the KKK for hate speech is a cowardly attack on the very principle of the right to free speech.
The campaign against hate speech is the leading edge of a war on free speech and expression. The activists may not know it, but the intellectual leaders of the movement certainly do. How can they not? This campaign will eventually result in hate speech laws that overturn the First Amendment’s guarantee of our inalienable rights to free speech, and put government in charge of deciding which ideas are acceptable and which aren’t. Book-burning won’t be far behind. This is a fascist tactic more in line with a Castro or a Mussolini, not an American. If you want to stop what you see as “hate speech,” you need to defeat and discredit the bad ideas that generate it. To do that, you first have to listen and critically think. To listen and think, you have to allow unfettered freedom of expression. Freedom of expression, so long as it isn’t tied to actual danger, violence, and force against others—such as crying “fire” in a crowded theater or plotting to overthrow a legitimate government—is a critical foundation of a civil and enlightened society. It should be protected, even when—indeed, especially when—it means defending ignorant bigots’ right to their freedom of expression.
I prefer to confront bad ideas openly and intellectually, using my own free speech as my weapon. I don’t want bad ideas driven underground where they can fester and metastasize and resurface as something worse. I don’t want good ideas driven underground because some fool labels it “hate speech.” I don’t want any ideas driven underground. I don’t want a “safe space.” I want the freedom to rebut what I consider bad ideas and advance the good ones. I want openly respectful airing and debate of all ideas. That’s how a free enlightened society operates. That’s what the anti-hate speech crusade is against. Count me out of this childish, shallow-minded, and dangerous anti-free speech movement masquerading as anti-hate.
To once again quote from the activists' website, the campaign is needed because “Hate, unchecked, can make neighbors feel fearful and unwelcome in their own communities. The Hate Has No Home Here project reminds us what it means to be American.” Thus the message, “The Hate Has No Home Here project seeks to declare neighborhood residences, businesses, and places of community free from hate speech and behavior, providing safe places for conversation, work, learning, and living.”
How do you “check” the hate by ignoring its source? How is shutting down speech that is subjectively labeled “hate speech” consistent with being American. And notice the gross equivocation of speech and behavior, which essentially means there is no difference between the pen and the sword! And how does banning speech one disagrees with foster conversation?
The dangerous campaign must be met with a principled defense of free speech in the spirit of the ACLU’s defense of the rights of self-avowed Nazis to peacefully March through Skokie, Illinois. Our motto should be Voltaire’s belief in freedom of speech as summed up in Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s famous quote, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Protecting Rights vs. Sanctioning Action