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Amid uproar in Virginia, questions arise about silencing hate speech (Against)

The First Amendment of the Constitution very clearly states that “Congress shall make no law […] prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

As the United States moves forward, it is very likely that its citizens will have debates and discussions centered around the freedom of speech.

As of now, many people have the simplistic view that silencing hate speech will bring peace. This viewpoint leads to a question: who, in that scenario, determines what hate speech is?

Giving the majority of society the power to decide what hate speech is causes minorities to be threatened. This injustice is exactly what the framers of the Constitution feared.

Giving the government the power to determine what is hate speech is immensely dangerous as well, as it may create a very dictatorial and authoritarian government that allows no dissent.

Many world governments are notorious for carrying out punishments for those with opposing political, religious and social views.

The United States is blessed to have the Supreme Court and organizations, such as the ACLU, protecting U.S. citizens’ right to express their views, no matter how provocative they may seem.

The system has checks and balances as part of the Constitution to protect U.S. citizens. Everyone must understand that freedom does not only apply to them, but also to those who dissent. That is the beauty and very core of freedom.

As a society, people may collectively agree that neo-Nazis and white supremacists are unpleasant people. That does not mean that they should be silenced. Everyone should have the ability to freely express their views in public. The majority cannot silence people on the basis that they do not agree or that it is offensive because that standard can be flipped just as easily.

Silencing those who dissent is a sign of intellectual insecurity. It shows that a person is not confident enough in their own beliefs to beat dissent in the realm of ideas. It is pathetic to see people on both sides of the political spectrum claiming a moral high-ground and shying away from facing any conflicting views. Right-wingers bashed Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem but this action, and similar actions, are entirely protected by the First Amendment.

People create uproar if someone starts burning the U.S. flag because it hurts their feelings. In France, people went crazy over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The political right claims that there is an overly politically correct culture, when both sides of the U.S. political spectrum can be accused of being “snowflakes” when it comes to certain issues.

There is a difference between what one can say in private and public places. For example, Milo Yiannopoulos was able to gain support of the American Civil Liberties Union after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority decided to remove advertising posters of his own book that were on subway cars. The ACLU is in the right for standing behind Yiannopoulos because his posters are protected by the First Amendment.

As someone who grew up Muslim, I have been faced with many anti-Islam bigots, especially on the internet. It would have been incredibly convenient for me if anything Islamophobic had been silenced. But debate and discussion are crucial to facilitating more understanding and introspection.

It is necessary to fight hate with love, ignorance with facts and bigotry with understanding. We must have discussions with those we disagree with. It is the ultimate cowardice to silence those with whom someone may not agree. It is not quite a debate if one side is not even there.

September 5, 2017

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