A couple days ago I wrote an article defending hate speech, inspired by an asinine tweet from former Vermont Gov. Howard dean.
He got an incredible amount of negative feedback for that, but instead of attempting any self-reflection he doubled down with this the next day:
Dude. Did you even read this court decision before posting it on twitter? Having not been alive or in New Hampshire in 1942, of course I was curious as to what it said. It turns out that in this case a man, Mr. Chaplinsky was arrested for allegedly inciting a riot and calling a police officer a “damned fascist” and “damned racketeer”. Gov. Dean using this example is hilarious, if for nothing else the fact that the left loves to shout fascist in people’s faces. The ‘Battle of Berkeley’ is a perfect example of this, and also a case where actual violence did erupt. According to this case, a physical response to the in-your-face protesters is likely justified.
The Washington Post again criticized Dean after this tweet, and explained the case in a better way than I can.
I’m pleased to say that I have read Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942), which is usually cited as recognizing a “fighting words” exception to the First Amendment — personally addressed face-to-face insults that are likely to start an imminent fight are not constitutionally protected. But that has little to do with “hate speech” as most people tend to use the phrase: (1) Such personal insults are constitutionally unprotected entirely without regard to whether they are bigoted. (2) Bigoted expressions of opinion that don’t involve such personally addressed face-to-face insults are constitutionally protected. (3) Indeed, statutes that target only bigoted “fighting words” for special punishments are constitutionally unprotected, even if they are limited to such personally addressed face-to-face insults, see R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992).
Now, I’m not a lawyer, and I vehemently disagree with this court decision. In my humble opinion the statute of NH is extremely vague, as Chaplinsky argued. It also appeared that an illegal arrest was made (he was not informed he was being arrested). But, it seems that only face-to-face insults could be prosecuted under the law. I still believe you should be able to say anything you want to anyone. If you can’t handle words, even “fighting words”, without resorting to punching someone in the face, perhaps you are the problem. I understand it gets to a point of harassment, which is another story. Simply stating that you don’t like white people or black people, straight people or gay people, trannies or cisgenders, males or females does not constitute a criminal act. The common definition of hate speech would include those statements.
So perhaps Mr. Dean is working off of an alternate definition of hate speech, but either way he is still wrong. Even socialist hero Bernie Sanders defends so-called hate speech when it comes to letting Ann Coulter speak on a college campus. Sanders told our sister site, the Huffington Post:
I don’t like this. I don’t like it… Obviously Ann Coulter’s outrageous ― to my mind, off the wall. But you know, people have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation.
To me, it’s a sign of intellectual weakness. If you can’t ask Ann Coulter in a polite way questions which expose the weakness of her arguments, if all you can do is boo, or shut her down, or prevent her from coming, what does that tell the world?
What are you afraid of ― her ideas? Ask her the hard questions… Confront her intellectually. Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don’t think that that works in any way.
Thank you, Bernie. When you’re right you’re right, and this is one hundred percent right. Coulter is a nut, but let the lady speak. Your childish protests only give her more attention. Having an alternate opinion is not ‘hate speech’, it’s not even ‘fighting words’. Screaming ‘fascist’ in someone’s face, though, apparently is. So thanks Howard Dean for pointing out that case, now we should be fully aware that these college protesters are actually breaking the law. For that, we thank you.