Freedom of speech is for all – The Register-Guard

Posted: August 22, 2017 at 11:44 pm

The First Amendment has been getting a workout lately, from white supremacist rallies and counter-protests to attempts to censor or block opposing viewpoints on college campuses.

The First Amendment is a broad guarantee of free and open discourse; its easier to list what isnt protected under the Bill of Rights than what is.

Unprotected speech includes obscenity, fighting words (those that inflict injury or are likely to incite an immediate breach of the peace), defamation (including libel and slander), child pornography, perjury, blackmail, incitement to imminent lawless action, true threats and solicitation to commit a crime. The nonprofit Newseum Institute notes that some experts also would add treason, if committed verbally, to that list.

Noticeably absent from the list is hate speech which the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled is protected, no matter how unpopular or bigoted, and speech that others find offensive or rude.

The First Amendment puts a great deal of responsibility for protecting free speech in the hands of the American people, counting on them to understand its importance and cherish it.

But when there are neo-Nazis and white supremacists holding rallies and issuing hateful, bigoted comments, it can be difficult for people to understand that protection of this is just as important as protecting words of peace, tolerance and brotherhood. For if one of these can be silenced, so can the other.

In recent years, there has been a troubling number of well-intentioned people wanting to silence speech they found hurtful or hateful or, on a lesser level, just obnoxious.

Some object to far-right speakers on college campuses, some object to far-left demonstrators. Some Register-Guard readers have objected to conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg, others have said they would be willing to give up Goldberg if liberal columnist Paul Krugman also disappeared. (Editors note: We intend to continue publishing both.)

Banning, or censoring, other viewpoints is not the way to unite what seems to be an increasingly divided country. In the instances of true hate speech neo-Nazis, white supremacists and others of their ilk those who object have other options.

They, too, have the right to free speech, to stand up and peacefully protest. And they have the right to ignore hate groups: While their speech is protected, people do not have to provide these groups with a venue or an audience. Depriving hate groups of attention is to deprive them of oxygen, making them less newsworthy and less likely to garner attention.

As for speech and viewpoints that the hearer simply disagrees with, rather than attempting to silence or block it, a better option is to listen. Listen to the concerns, listen to the fears and frustration, listen to the hopes and the proposals. People of good will can have different views when it comes to the causes and cures for social and economic ills. But they also can find common ground in their concerns or experiences and that can be the start of bridging the divide between people. That is what free speech is meant to do.

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Freedom of speech is for all - The Register-Guard

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