Freedom of speech is an important backbone of U.S. society. This unalienable right allows for the unlimited flow of political discourse, discussion and critique, which are all needed for a democracy to sustain itself.
However, often in modern discourse, the freedom of speech is misunderstood and used to defend horrendous ideas.
This comes from a lack of understanding of the nature of this freedom and, therefore, a future exploration of its limits and uses is needed. While honorable, the idea of disagreeing with someone but defending their right to free speech is a naive notion. This centrist stance can potentially lead to more harm than good.
Freedom of speech protects against government censorship of an individual’s opinion. Someone may say what they wish without the government cracking down on them. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence of those expressed opinions.
In particular, freedom of speech is limited when said words can cause harm. The Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States set the precedent that speech that is both dangerous and false, such as falsely yelling fire in a theater, is not protected under freedom of speech. More apt to current events is the doctrine of fighting words.
This doctrine stems from the Supreme Court case Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, which states that words that incite violence or hatred are not covered under freedom of speech. If a group of Nazis came storming through a town in Virginia chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us,” neither is covered under freedom of speech.
For a tolerant society to exist, intolerance cannot be tolerated. This paradox, noted by philosopher Karl Popper, expresses the idea that for a liberal society to exist, it cannot tolerate intolerant viewpoints.
Tolerance of intolerance allows for seeds of destruction in a society to be fostered and eventually destroy said society. Popper goes on to support the suppression, even violent suppression, of intolerance for a tolerant society to exist.
More importantly, to say that this hate speech is covered under freedom of expression sets an extremely dangerous precedent of validating such viewpoints. The United States is a meeting of immigrants. It is a nation built on the ideas of multiculturalism. The tide of nationalism betrays the ideals of the United States and cannot be viewed simply as an opposing opinion.
There comes a point when these views are now longer contrasting ideas or petty disagreement but completely, diametrically opposed to the ideals on which the United States was built.
One cannot argue with someone who does not think that the arguer has the right to exist because of parts of their identity that they cannot control, such as race or sexuality. That idea is not a disagreement so much as it is vitriol.
To call that idea a simple matter of opinion validates that view. It is no longer a simple disagreement over policy but an ideologically lost idea. One cannot argue with a Nazi on why their views are unsound. The only course of action is the suppression of such groups. To make a claim that this vitriol is protected under freedom of speech only serves to give those who do not deserve a platform a safe area to voice their ideas: a rallying cry for the deplorable.
There cannot be a safe harbor for these ideas. While government suppression is unwise, the public must take this into its hands and fight back the tide of nationalism on any and every front.
The paradox of suppressing intolerance is not a slippery slope. The line is very clear on when this idea should be used. A society cannot tolerate hate speech in the name of the First Amendment. The viewpoints of white supremacists cannot be entertained. Intolerance must not be tolerated for a tolerant society to flourish.